Koza v Akcil: The Court of Appeal on exclusive jurisdiction for company matters.

Thank you Angharad Parry for flagging  [2017] EWCA Civ 1609 Koza v Akcil – Angharad has excellent factual background. The case concerns the application of Article 24(2) of the Brussels I Recast Regulation, which assigns exclusive jurisdiction to the Courts of the Member State of the seat in matters relating to the life and death of companies and of the validity of decisions made by their organs:

in proceedings which have as their object the validity of the constitution, the nullity or the dissolution of companies or other legal persons or associations of natural or legal persons, or of the validity of the decisions of their organs, the courts of the Member State in which the company, legal person or association has its seat. In order to determine that seat, the court shall apply its rules of private international law;

Referring particularly to C-144/10 BVG and to C-372/07 Hassett, the Court of Appeal at 28 correctly suggests Article 24’s exclusive jurisdictional rules need to be interpreted with their limited purpose in mind: ‘when article 24(2) speaks of proceedings having an “object” it is not referring to the purpose of the proceedings. Rather that phrase is to be interpreted as “proceedings which are principally concerned with” one of the types of subject matter within the article.’ At 37: ‘The task for the court in each case is therefore to determine whether the proceedings relate principally to the validity of the decisions of an organ of the company. A mere link to a decision of the company, or an issue raised which is ancillary to the heart of a contractual or some other dispute, is insufficient to bring the proceedings within the exclusive jurisdiction.’

Floyd LJ at 46 summarises the direction for courts: ‘I do not take from the English or European authorities which were cited to us any suggestion that one is required in all cases to disentangle issues which are interlinked in this way and apply Article 24(2) to each issue separately. On the contrary, faced with such proceedings, the court is required to form an overall evaluative judgment as to what the proceedings are principally concerned with. The position is obviously different from a case where two quite independent claims are made in the same proceedings. Exclusive jurisdiction in relation to each claim would, in those circumstances, have to be determined separately.’ In the case at hand the case was found overall and fundamentally to concern one and the same issue of the validity of decisions of the organs of the company

Consequently the issue is one of looking beyond the particulars of form and into the true nature of the proceedings. Not a decision always made with ease.

Geert.

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

 

Sabbagh v Khoury. The Court of Appeal struggles on merits review for anchor defendants.

Update 24 July 2019 the injunction was partially upheld by the Court of Appeal.

Update 7 June 2018 on 31 May the High Court [2018] EWHC 1330 (Comm)] backed up the CA’s finding with an interim anti-suit (in arbitration) injunction.

Sabbagh v Khoury at the High Court was the subject of a lengthy review in an earlier post. The Court of Appeal has now considered the issues at stake, in no lesser detail.

In line with my previous post (readers unfamiliar with it may want to refer to it; and to very good Hill Dickinson summary of the case), of particular consideration here is the jurisdictional test under (old) Article 6(1) Brussels I, now Article 8(1) in the Recast, in particular the extent of merits review; and whether the subject matter of the claim comes within the succession exception of Article 1(2)(a) of the Brussels I Regulation.

As for the latter, the Court, after reviewing relevant precedent and counsel argument (but not, surprisingly, the very language on this issue in the Jenard report, as I mention in my previous post) holds in my view justifiably that ‘(t)he source of the ownership is irrelevant to the nature of the claim. ..The subject matter of the dispute is not whether Sana is an heir, but whether the defendants have misappropriated her property.‘ (at 161).

With respect to the application of Article 6(1) – now 8(1), the majority held in favour of a far-reaching merits review. Lady Justice Gloster (at 166 ff) has a minority opinion on the issue and I am minded to agree with her. As she notes (at 178) the operation of a merits test within Article 6(1) does give rise to risk of irreconcilable judgments, which can be demonstrated by reference to the present facts. She successfully, in my view, distinguishes the CJEU’s findings in Kolassa and in CDC, and the discussion at any rate one would have thought, deserves CJEU review.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.12.1

Schmidt v Schmidt: Family feud again leads to discussion of forum rei sitae & forum connexitatis in Brussels I Recast.

An unusually high proportion of cases under Article 22 (old) or 24 (Recast) Brussels I relate to family disputes on property. Webb v Webb, Weber v Weber, Komu v Komu, and now, C-417/15 Schmidt v Schmidt. It’s all about keeping up with the Joneses.

Kokott AG opined in Schmidt last week – the Opinion is not available in English. Mr Schmidt had gifted a (otherwise unspecified) piece of Vienna real estate to his daughter, who lives in Germany. Ms Schmidt is included in the land register as the owner. Mr Schmidt subsequently sues in Austria for the annulment of the gift due to alleged incapacity at the time of the gift, and for removal of the registration. Is the action caught by Article 24? (in which case Ms Schmidt’s claim of lack of jurisdiction fails).

The Advocate General first of all suggests that the referring court’s request should not be turned down simply because it did not specify the time of seizure: in other words it is not clear whether the case is covered by the old or the Recast Brussels I Regulation. Ms Kokott however suggests the Court should not be pedantic about this and answer the question regardless, seeing as the rule has not changed.

Next up and potentially trickier, is the exclusion of capacity from the scope of application of the Regulation. However the Advocate General is right when she suggest that the exclusions should only be relevant where they concern the main object of the litigation. Not, as here, when they are raised incidentally. (She discusses in some detail the linguistic implications given different wording in the different language versions of the Regulation).

Then to the real question. With respect to the annulment of the (gift) agreement, the object and purpose of plaintiff’s action is not the establishment or confirmation of an erga omnes right in rem. Rather, the confirmation of voidness of an agreement transferring such right, due to incapacity. That this will have erga omnes consequences if successful, is not to the point given the long-established need to apply Article 24 restrictively. In this respect this case is akin to C-294/92 Webb and Webb.

The analysis is different however, the AG suggests, for the request to delete the entry in the land register. This does aim directly at erga omnes consequences under Austrian law.

Ms Kokott subsequently rejects the notion that as a result of part of the suit being subject to Article 24, this should drag the remainder into the exclusive bath with it: at 48: if only because if one were to accept this, forum shopping would be facilitated. Including in its suit a procedure covered by Article 24 would enable plaintiff to draw in a whole range of other issues between the parties.

Finally, the AG suggests joinder of the contractual claim (the nullity of the gift) to the right in rem claim, is possible under Article 8(4) and rejects that national rules of civil procedure should or even can play a role in this respect. This part of the Opinion may be optimistically short. For if the joinder route of Article 8(4) may lead to the same result as the one the AG had just rejected, one assumes there ought to be discretion for the national courts to reject it. Not, as the AG rightly suggests, by reference to national civil procedure rules (that would lead to unequal application) but rather by reference to the (probably) EU inspired rule that abuse of Article 8 be avoided.

The Court will probably not answer all the questions the case raises, particularly on Article 8. Expect this to return.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.6

 

 

The lady is not for turning. CJEU in Komu v Komu sticks to classic application of exclusive jurisdictional rule for rights in rem in immovable property.

Update 17 December 2016 application of Komu v Komu was made in [2016] EWCA Civ 1292 Magiera v Magiera.

In Case C-605/14, Komu v Komu, the CJEU stuck to its classic applicatio n of the rule of Article 22(1) Brussels I (now Article 24(1) Brussels Recast). This Article prescribes exclusive jurisdiction for (among others) proceedings which have as their object rights in rem in immovable property. Article 25 (now 27) adds that where a court of a Member State is seised of a claim which is principally concerned with a matter over which the courts of another Member State have exclusive jurisdiction by virtue of Article 22, it shall declare of its own motion that it has no jurisdiction. (emphasis added).

Mr Pekka Komu, Ms Jelena Komu, Ms Ritva Komu, Ms Virpi Komu and Ms Hanna Ruotsalainen are domiciled in Finland and are co-owners of a house situated in Torrevieja (Spain), the first three each with a 25% share and the other two each with a 12.5% share. In addition, Ms Ritva Komu has a right of use, registered in the Spanish Land Register, over the shares held by Ms Virpi Komu and Ms Hanna Ruotsalainen.Wishing to realise the interests that they hold in both properties, and in the absence of agreement on the termination of the relationship of co-ownership, Ms Ritva Komu, Ms Virpi Komu and Ms Ruotsalainen brought an action before the District Court, South Savo, Finland for an order appointing a lawyer to sell the properties and fixing a minimum price for each of the properties. The courts obliged in first instance and queried the extent of Article 22’s rule in appeal.

Co-ownership and rights of use, one assumes, result from an inheritance.

The CJEU calls upon classic case-law, including most recently Weber. At 30 ff it recalls the ‘considerations of sound administration of justice which underlie the first paragraph of Article 22(1) …’ and ‘also support such exclusive jurisdiction in the case of an action intended to terminate the co-ownership of immovable property, as that in the main proceedings.’:

The transfer of the right of ownership in the properties at issue in the main proceedings will entail the taking into account of situations of fact and law relating to the linking factor as laid down in the first paragraph of Article 22(1) of Regulation No 44/2001, namely the place where those properties are situated. The same applies, in particular, to the fact that the rights of ownership in the properties and the rights of use encumbering those rights are the subject of entries in the Spanish Land Register in accordance with Spanish law, the fact that rules governing the sale, by auction where appropriate, of those properties are those of the Member State in which they are situated, and the fact that, in the case of disagreement, the obtaining of evidence will be facilitated by proximity to the locus rei sitae. The Court has already held that disputes concerning rights in rem in immovable property, in particular, must generally be decided by applying the rules of the State in which the property is situated, and the disputes which frequently arise require checks, inquiries and expert assessments which have to be carried out there.

A sound finding given precedent. However I continue to think it questionable whether these reasons, solid as they may have been in 1968, make much sense in current society. It may be more comfortable to have the case heard in Spain for the reasons set out by the Court. But essential? Humankind can perform transcontinental robot-assisted remote telesurgery. But it cannot, it seems, consult the Spanish land registry from a court in Finland. I would suggest it is time to adapt Article 24 in a future amendment of the Regulation.

Geert.

flyLAL-Lithuanian Airlines – ECJ holds on ‘civil and commercial’, ordre public and Article 22(2)’s exclusive jurisdictional rule all in the context of competition law.

Postscript 21 December 2016: it has been brought to my attention that the Latvian Supreme Court in October 2015 ultimately held that the Lithuanian judgment would not be recognised, on the grounds of ordre public. See here for an overview of the arguments.

flyLAL seeks compensation for damage resulting, first, from the abuse of a dominant position by Air Baltic on the market for flights from or to Vilnius Airport (Lithuania) and, second, from an anti-competitive agreement between the co-defendants. To that end, it applied for provisional and protective measures. The relevant Lithuanian court granted that application and issued an order for sequestration, on a provisional and protective basis, of the moveable and/or immoveable assets and property rights of Air Baltic and Starptautiskā Lidosta Rīga. A relevant Latvian court decided to recognise and enforce that judgment in Latvia, in so far as the recognition and enforcement related to the sequestration of the moveable and/or immoveable assets and property rights of  defendants. Application by flyLAL for a guarantee of enforcement of that judgment was rejected.

Defendants submit that the recognition and enforcement of the judgment are contrary to both the rules of public international law on immunity from jurisdiction and the brussels I Regulation. They argue that the present case does not fall within the scope of that regulation. Since the dispute relates to airport charges set by State rules, it does not, they submit, concern a civil or commercial matter within the meaning of that regulation.

On the scope of application issue (‘civil and commercial‘), the ECJ held with reference to previous case-law, that the provision of airport facilities in return for payment of a fee constitutes an economic activity. (This is different from the foundation judgment in Eurocontrol, which in turn was cross-referred in Sapir (to which the ECJ in current judgment refers repeatedly): Eurocontrol is a public body and the use of its services by airlines is compulsory and exclusive). The amount of shares held by government in the relevant airlines is irrelevant.

That the exclusive jurisdictional rule of Article 22(2) may be at issue (which might have led the court with whom enforcement is sought, to refuse such) was clearly a desperate attempt to rebuke jurisdiction. The national court should not have entertained it, let alone sent it to Luxemburg. (The Court replies courteously that ‘seeking legal redress for damage resulting from alleged infringements of European Union competition law, must (not) be regarded as constituting proceedings which have as their object the validity of the decisions of the organs of companies within the meaning of that provision.’) One assumes the flimsiest of arguments might have been that the board or a director would have had to approve the actions leading to the infringement.

Finally, according to Article 34(1), a judgment is not to be recognised if such recognition is manifestly contrary to public policy in the Member State in which recognition is sought. The referring court is unsure, first, as to the consequences to be drawn from the failure to state reasons for the methods of determining the amount of the sums concerned by the provisional and protective measures granted by the judgment in respect of which recognition and enforcement are sought and, second, as to the consequences linked to the amount of those sums.

With respect to the alleged failure to state reasons, the ECJ confirms (at 51 ff) that the observance of the right to a fair trial requires that all judgments be reasoned in order to enable the defendant to understand why judgment has been pronounced against him and to bring an appropriate and effective appeal against such a judgment (see ia Trade Agency). However that was not the case at issue: there is no lack of reasoning, since it is possible to follow the line of reasoning which led to the determination of the amount of the sums at issue. Parties concerned moreover had the opportunity to bring an action against such a decision and they exercised that option.  Therefore, the basic principles of a fair trial were respected and, accordingly, there are no grounds to consider that there has been a breach of public policy.

As regards the amount of the sums, the concept of ‘public policy’ within the meaning of Article 34(1)seeks to protect legal interests which are expressed through a rule of law, and not purely economic interests. The mere invocation of serious economic consequences does not constitute an infringement of the public policy of the Member State in which recognition is sought (at 58).

Once again the Court’s emphasis is on the exceptional nature of the ordre public exception.

Geert.

 

 

Sabbagh v Khoury. The High Court considers the ‘wills and succession’ exception, (reflexive application of) the exclusive jurisdictional rule for company matters, and anchor defendants under the Jurisdiction Regulation.

Sabbagh v Khoury is great for oral exam purposes. Hand the student a copy of the case and ipso presto, there is plenty to talk about for at least half an hour.

Sana Sabbagh, who lives in New York, claims that the Defendants have variously, since her father’s stroke, conspired against both him and her to misappropriate his assets (“the asset misappropriation claim”) and, since her father’s death, to work together to deprive her of her entitlement to shares in the group of companies which her father ran (“the share deprivation claim”). Wael, first defendant, is the anchor defendant for jurisdictional purposes. He resides and has at all material times resided in London. The other Defendants live or are based abroad.

Defendants contend in essence  (at 83):

a) that the claims against Wael (as noted, the anchor defendant) are so weak that there is no risk of irreconcilable judgments from separate proceedings and so no basis for joinder under Article 6(1) of the Brussels I Regulation (“the merits issue”);

b) that the claims fall outside the Brussels Regulation because the Regulation does not apply to “wills and succession” within the scope of Article 1(2)(a) (“the succession issue”), or challenges to the validity of CCG’s organs within the scope of Article 22(2) (“the Article 22 issue”), and the natural and appropriate forum for determining them is Lebanon (“the forum issue”);

c) that the claims are subject to an arbitration clause (or several arbitration clauses) such that a stay is required by s. 9(4) of the Arbitration Act 1996 (“the stay issue”). Any disputes against parties not bound by the arbitration clause should be stayed as a matter of discretion.

(Point c falls outside the scope of current posting).

Logically looking at point b) first (the exclusion of ‘wills and succession’, the High Court first of all considered the proposition that exceptions to the scope of application need to be applied restrictively.

To my knowledge this has not as such been held by the ECJ. Carr J expresses sympathy with the view that the findings of the ECJ in C-292/08 German Graphics in particular (that the insolvency exception not be given an interpretation broader than is required by its objective), could be given broader application, for all exceptions. I am more convinced by defendants’ argument that one needs to be careful to extend the reasoning of German Graphics outside the insolvency context, given that its ruling is inevitably influenced by the existence of the Insolvency Regulation.

However Mrs Justice Carr suggested that whether or not restrictive interpretation ought to be followed, is not quite the determinant issue: rather, that the exceptions should be applied in similar fashion as the exclusive jurisdictional rules of Article 22 (Article 24 in the recast).  Those jurisidictional rules, which are an exception to the general rule of Article 2 (4 in the recast), Carr J notes, only apply where the action is ‘principally concerned with’ the legal issue identified in the Article. ‘Have as their object’ is the term used in the Regulation, for 3 out of 5 of the Article 22 exceptions. (For the other two, including those with respect to intellectual property, the term is ‘concerned with’. In fact in other language versions the term is ‘concerned with’ throughout – which has not helped interpretation). ‘Have as their object’ was indeed applied by the ECJ as meaning ‘whose principal subject-matter comprises’ in BVG, viz the Article 22(2) exception. (Not in fact as Carr J notes, ‘principally concerned with’ , which the ECJ only referred to because it is the language used in Article 25’s rule on examination of jurisdiction).

The stronger argument for siding with the High Court’s conclusion lies in my view not in the perceived symmetry between Article 22 (exclusive jurisdictional rules) and Article 1 (scope), but rather in the High Court’s reference in passing to the Jenard report. At C/59/10: ‘matters falling outside the scope of the Convention do so only if they constitute the principal subject-matter of the proceedings. They are thus not excluded when they come before the court as a subsidiary matter either in the main proceedings or in preliminary proceedings.’ Granted, the result is the same, however the interpretative route is neater. Like other things in life (it’s single Malt, not so much general tidiness I am referring to), I like my statutory interpretation neat.

Eventually Carr J held that Ms Sabbagh’s action is principally concerned with assets and share misappropriation, in short, with conspiracy to defraud. If successful, the action will of course impact on Ms Sabbagh’s inheritance. However that does not justify the exclusion of Brussels I to her claim.

[The court was also taken on a short comparative tour of the Succession Regulation, with a view to interpreting the succession exception in Brussels I. Interestingly, Carr J noted that indeed that Regulation may serve as a supplementary means of interpretation of the Jurisdiction Regulation, even though the UK is not bound by the Succession Regulation.]

 

Next came the potential application of Article 22(2). This issue not only raised the question of whether the action would at all fall within the Article 22(2) remit; but also, whether in that case that Article needs to be applied reflexively, given that the companies concerned are incorporated in Lebanon. Here inevitably reference was made to Ferrexpo. The High Court however held that no question of reflexive application arises, under the same reasoning as above, with respect to the succession exception: the challenge to the corporate decisions was not one of ultra vires or other ‘corporate’ validity: rather, one of their proper characterisation or correctness. They are not therefore substantially concerned with the Article 22(2) exceptions.

 

The High Court preceded its application of Article 6(1) (joinders /use of an anchor defendant: first defendant is domiciled in London) with a very thorough review of the merits of each of the cases. (At 5, the Court notes that the other defendants live ‘abroad’, most of them seemingly in Greece. However the relevant companies at least seem to be domiciled in Lebanon. Article 6 can only be used against defendants already domiciled in another Member State. For those outside, national conflicts law decides the possibility of joinder).

Article 6 requires that “the claims are so closely connected that it is expedient to hear and determine them together to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgments resulting from separate proceedings.”  ECJ Case-law (in particular Roche Nederland, C-539/03) has it that it is not sufficient that there be a divergence in the outcome of the dispute: that divergence must also arise in the context of the same situation of law and fact (Case C‑539/03 Roche Nederland and Others [2006] ECR I‑6535, paragraph 26). In Freeport, Case C-98/09, the ECJ added that It is for the national court to assess whether there is a connection between the different claims brought before it, that is to say, a risk of irreconcilable judgments if those claims were determined separately and, in that regard, to take account of all the necessary factors in the case-file, which may, if appropriate yet without its being necessary for the assessment, lead it to take into consideration the legal bases of the actions brought before that court. (at 41). It added that where claims brought against different defendants are connected when the proceedings are instituted, (which implies that it is expedient to hear and determine them together to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgments resulting from separate proceedings), there is no further need to establish separately that the claims were not brought with the sole object of ousting the jurisdiction of the courts of the Member State where one of the defendants is domiciled (Freeport, at 54).

Whether the likelihood of success of an action against a party before the courts of the State where he is domiciled is relevant in the determination of whether there is a risk of irreconcilable judgments for the purposes of Article 6(1), was raised in Freeport but not answered by the ECJ for such answer was eventually not necessary for the preliminary review at issue. In Sabbagh, with reference to precedent in the English courts, the High Court does carry out a rather thorough merits review, effectively to review whether the claim against Wael might not be abusive: ie invented simply to allow him to be used as anchor defendant. Carr J’s extensive merits review hinges on ‘to take account of all the necessary factors in the case-file‘ per Freeport. Whether such detailed review might exceed what is required under Article 6(1) is simply not easily ascertained. (The High Court eventually did decide that Article 6(1) applied on account of one of the pursued claims).

Did I say ‘half an hour’ in the opening line of this posting? An exam using this judgment might take a bit longer…

Geert.

Court of Appeal suggests in Dal Al Arkan that Choudhary reading of Article 22(5) Brussels I was per incuriam. (Exclusive jurisidiction for enforcement).

Postscript 24 November 2017 Dal Al Arkan was confirmed in Deutsche Bank AG v Sebastian Holdings Inc & Alexander Vik [2017] EWHC 459 and in Dennis v TAG Group [2017] EWHC 919 (Ch).  Permission for service out of jurisdiction is not required since the (now) Article 24(5) rule applies regardless of domicile of the parties.

In Dar Al Arkan, the Court of Appeal has suggested that the Court’s reading of Article 22(5) of the Brussels I-Regulation in Choudhary was  per incuriam (meaning, in short, without reference to relevant statutory law and case-law and hence not subject to the rule of precedent).

Article 22(5 provides for ‘exclusive jurisdiction’ ‘regardless of domicile’, ‘in proceedings concerned with the enforcement of judgments’, established for the ‘courts of the Member State in which the judgment has been or is to be enforced’.  The key word for this exclusive jurisdictional ground is ‘enforcement’. ‘Proceedings concerned with the enforcement of judgments’ means ‘those proceedings which can arise from recourse to force, constraint or distraint on movable or immovable property in order to ensure the effective implementation of judgments and authentic instruments‘ (Raport Jenard).

Difficulties arising out of such proceedings come within the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts for the place of enforcement, as was already the case in a number of bilateral Treaties concluded between a number of the original States, and also in the internal private international law of those States.

The Jenard report does not quote a specific reason for the reasoning behind this exclusivity, however one assumes that such proceedings are so intimately linked to the use of judicial authority and indeed force, that any complications in their enforcement ought to be looked at exclusively by the courts of the very State whose judicial authorities are asked to carry out the enforcement. In the words of the Court of Justice: ‘the essential purpose of the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of the place in which the judgment has been or is to be enforced is that it is only for the courts of the Member State on whose territory enforcement is sought to apply the rules concerning the action on that territory of the authorities responsible for enforcement.’ [Case C-261/90 Reichert v Dresdner Bank, [1992] ECR 2149, para 26.).

Neither Convention, Regulation or Report Jenard clarify specifically for Article 22(5) whether the Article applies against non-EU domiciled defendants. In Choudhary, the Court of Appeal had held that it does not. However it had refrained from citing any relevant statutory or (ECJ) case-law authority. In Dar Al Arkan, the Court suggests that this renders judgment in Choudhary per incuriam in line of ECJ and scholarly authority. This is the right approach: the raison d’etre for Article 22(5) is a specific and narrowly construed one, as it is for all other parts of Article 22, in particular per the extract from Reichert, above. (A convincing case for Gleichlauf between court and applicable law).

For instance, the Article 22(5) ground for jurisdiction must not thwart jurisdiction of other courts who would have jurisdiction had the case not been brought as part of an enforcement difficulty. Therore, by way of example, the court which has jurisdiction on the basis of Article 22(5), cannot hear the defence against enforcement which is based on a request for compensation with a different mutual debt (Case 220/84, AS-Autoteile Service). Neither does Article 22(5) trump the enforcement Title of the Regulation.

Within those narrow confines, there is no reason not to extend the jurisdictional rule to defendants domiciled outside of the EU. Their non-dom status is immaterial to the proceedings. (Note that the issue on the ‘reflexive’ nature of 22(5) is not resolved by this judgment. Neither by the Brussels I recast, which does clarify (recital 14) that indeed non-EU domicile of the defendants is not relevant for the application of Article 24 of the new Brussels I-Regulation).

Geert.

 

Lis alibi pendens rule does NOT apply (to the court seized second having such jurisdiction) in the event of exclusive jurisdictional rules – The ECJ in Weber v Weber

In C-438/12 Weber v Weber the ECJ gave helpful clarification of the non-application of the strict lis alibi pendens rules of the Jurisdiction Regulation in the event of infringement of the Regulation’s exclusive jurisdictional rules. This to my knowledge at least had not yet been clearly established by the Court.

Ms I. Weber (I’) and Ms M. Weber (‘M’), are co-owners to the extent of 6/10 and 4/10 of a property in Munich.  On the basis of a notarised act of 20 December 1971, a right in rem of pre‑emption over the four-tenths share belonging to M was entered in the Land Register in favour of I. By a notorial contract of 28 October 2009, M sold her four-tenths share to Z. GbR, a company incorporated under German law, of which one of the directors is her son, Mr Calmetta, a lawyer established in Milan. According to one of the clauses in that contract, M, as the seller, reserved a right of withdrawal valid until 28 March 2010 and subject to certain conditions.

Being informed by the notary who had drawn up the contract in Munich, I exercised her right of pre-emption by letter of 18 December 2009. On 25 February 2010, by a contract concluded before that notary, I and M once more expressly recognised the effective exercise of the right of pre-emption by I and agreed that the property should be transferred to her for the same price as that agreed in the contract for sale signed between M and Z. GbR. However, the two parties asked the notary not to carry out the procedures for the registration of the transfer of property in the Land Register until M had made a written declaration before the same notary that she had not exercised her right of withdrawal or that she had waived that right arising from the contract concluded with Z. GbR within the period laid down, which expired on 28 March 2010. On 2 March, I paid the agreed purchase price of EUR 4 million.

By letter of 15 March 2010, M declared that she had exercised her right of withdrawal from the contract of 28 October 2009. By an application of 29 March 2010, Z. GbR brought an action against I and M, before the District Court, Milan, seeking a declaration that the exercise of the right of pre-emption by I was ineffective and invalid, and that the contract concluded between M and that company was valid.

On 15 July 2010, I brought proceedings against M before the Landgericht München, seeking an order that M register the transfer of ownership of the four-tenths share with the Land Register.

The Court of Justice first of all had to decide whether an action seeking a declaration that a right in rem in immovable property has not been validly exercised, falls within the category of proceedings which have as their object right in rem in immovable property, within the meaning of Article 22(1) of Regulation No 44/2001. It held that it did, with the required amount of deference to national law: a right of pre-emption, such as that provided for by Paragraph 1094 of the BGB, which attaches to immovable property and which is registered with the Land Register, produces its effects not only with respect to the debtor, but guarantees the right of the holder of that right to transfer the property also vis-à-vis third parties, so that, if a contract for sale is concluded between a third party and the owner of the property burdened, the proper exercise of that right of pre-emption has the consequence that the sale is without effect with respect to the holder of that right, and the sale is deemed to be concluded between the holder of that right and the owner of the property on the same conditions as those agreed between the latter and the third party.

The next core question was whether Article 27’s lis alibi pendens rule applies in the event of the court second seized having exclusive jurisdiction. Here, the ECJ distinguished Gasser, in which it declined freedom for the court second seized to assume priority on the basis of a choice of court agreement. (A particular use of torpedoeing which is now addressed by the Brussels I-bis Regulation). It refers in particular to the positive obligation included in Article 35 of the Jurisdiction Regulation for courts not to recognise earlier judgments which were held in contravention of Article 22’s exclusive jurisdictional rules. Article 23’s choice of court agreements, by contrast, does not feature in Article 35.

The ECJ’s reference to Article 35  in my view means that the Court’s reasoning extends to all jurisdictional rules included in that article, including the protected categories of consumers and insureds (not, strangely, employees. This will change however following the Brussels I recast). There is lingering doubt however over the impact of the judgment on the application of Article 22(4)’s rule on intellectual property. In Weber (at 56) the Court holds that ‘ In those circumstances, the court second seised is no longer entitled to stay its proceedings or to decline jurisdiction, and it must give a ruling on the substance of the action before it in order to comply with the rule on exclusive jurisdiction.‘ In the application of Article 22(4), this continues to raise the question whether ‘the substance of the action before it’ only concerns the validity of the intellectual property, or also the underlying issue of infringement of such property.

Weber v Weber is a crucial further step in clarifying the lis alibi pendens rule. Sadly, family tussles do often advance the state of the law.

Geert.

Reflexive application of exclusive jurisdictional rules: The High Court in Ferrexpo

In Ferrexpo, the High Court applied a so-called ‘reflexive’ or ‘mirror’ application of the exclusive jurisdictional rules of Article 22 of the Brussels I Regulation. The case was held in April 2012 – it has only recently come to my attention.

Mr Babakov, a Russian, trading through a variety of companies with registered office in England (collectively known as ‘Gilson’), has a long-running litigation against Mr Zhevago, of Ukrainian nationality, equally trading through a variety of companies, with registered office in Switserland (collectively known as ‘Ferrexpo’). At the core of the dispute lies the control over a Ukrainian mining company named OJSC.

In 2005, Babakov files in the Ukraine, with a view to having a number of shareholder resolutions declared void. These were taken in 2002 and had decided that Gilson’s shares in OJSC were invalid and had to be transferred to Ferrexpo. In 2010 a Ukrainian court held that the shareholder resolutions were indeed invalid. Babakov subsequently initiated new proceedings in the Ukraine, with a view to having the Gilson shares in OJSC restored. On 23 November 2011 the Ukrainian court ordered for Ferrexpo to be joined to this proceeding.

Ferrexpo started a procedure against Gilson in England on 22 November 2011, with a view to declaring that the Ferrexpo shares in OJSC were valid. Gilson argued that the English court had no jurisdiction, for a reflexive application of Articles 22(2) and 28 (part of the lis alibi pendens rule) of the Brussels I Regulation required it to desist. Article 22(2) reads

‘The following courts shall have exclusive jurisdiction, regardless of domicile: (…)

2. in proceedings which have as their object the validity of the constitution, the nullity or the dissolution of companies or other legal persons or associations of natural or legal persons, or of the validity of the decisions of their organs, the courts of the Member State in which the company, legal person or association has its seat. In order to determine that seat, the court shall apply its rules of private international law;’

Ferrexpo argued that 1) the English Courts had jurisdiction on the basis of Article 2 of the Brussels I Regulation, and Gilson’s domicile in the UK; 2) it would not receive a fair trial in the Ukraine, the issue would be resolved fast in an English court, and the English courts enjoy “trust and confidence“.

In Owusu, the Court of Justice famously held that where the (in that case also English) national court had jurisdiction by reason of Article 2 of the Jurisdiction Regulation, it could not decline such jurisdiction on the basis that a Court of another state was a more appropriate forum: forum non conveniens has no place in the Brussels regime. However what Owusu did not resolve, was whether this also applies where the European court wishing to decline jurisdiction, does so because the issue at stake is one of the interests listed in Article 22 of the Regulation (exclusive jurisdictional rules), which just so happens to be located outside of the EU (in the case at issue: shareholder resolutions of a Ukrainian company are the core of the dispute).

The High Court held that Article 22 should so apply: jurisdiction was denied. The decision is problematic, for preparatory works of the Brussels I Regulation indicate quite clearly that the interests that are being protected, are only those located inside the EU (or Lugano States if the application of the Lugano Convention is at stake). The Court could not have been clearer as to the application of Article 2 in Owuso. Granted and as noted, Owusu did not entertain the reflexive application of Article 22, however direction in Owuso is clear. Reference to the ECJ in Ferrexpo would have been merited – although the English courts are reluctant to do so, having burnt their fingers so badly in Owusu.

Geert.

Court Judgment in Solvay: Roche distinguished, jurisdiction for provisional measures upheld in spite of Article 22(4) JR.

Solvay, case C-616/10 [I reported on the AG’s Opinion here; readers may want to have a quick look at that post before or after reading on], was decided by the Court on Thursday, 12 July. AG and Court revisited a number of old chestnuts in the application of the Brussels I Regulation (the Jurisdiction Regulation or ‘JR’): the exclusive ground of jurisdiction with respect to intellectual property rights, of Article 22(4); multipartite litigation in Article 6 JR; and finally provisional measures, referred to in Article 31.

Solvay accuses Honeywell Flourine Products Europe BV and Honeywell Europe NV of performing the reserved actions in the whole of Europe and Honeywell Belgium NV of performing the reserved actions in Northern and Central Europe. In the course of its action for infringement, on 9 December 2009 Solvay also lodged an interim claim against the Honeywell companies, seeking provisional relief in the form of a cross-border prohibition against infringement until a decision had been made in the main proceedings.  In the interim proceedings, the Honeywell companies raised the defence of invalidity of the national parts of the patent concerned without, however, having brought or even declared their intention of bringing proceedings for the annulment of the national parts of that patent, and without contesting the competence of the Dutch court to hear both the main proceedings and the interim proceedings.

On the applicability of Artice 6 (multipartite litigation), the Court agrees with the AG that Roche still holds: the same situation of law cannot be inferred where infringement proceedings are brought before a number of courts in different Member States in respect of a European patent granted in each of those States and those actions are brought against defendants domiciled in those States in respect of acts allegedly committed in their territory. A European patent continues to be governed, per the Munich Convention, by the national law of each of the Contracting States for which it has been granted.

However in the specific circumstances of a case, Roche may be distinguished: whether there is a risk of irreconcilable judgments if those claims were determined separately, is for the national court to determine. The Court of Justice instructs the national court to take into account, inter alia, the dual fact that, first, the defendants in the main proceeding are each separately accused of committing the same infringements with respect to the same products and, secondly, such infringements were committed in the same Member States, so that they adversely affect the same national parts of the European patent at issue.

On the application of Article 22(4), the Court emphasises the very different and unconnected nature of Article 22 and Article 31. They are part of different titles of the Regulation, etc. However, on the other hand, the application of one part of the Regulation may of course have an impact on the remainder, hence one cannot simply apply different parts of the Regulation in splendid isolation.

The COJ notes that according to the referring court, the court before which the interim proceedings have been brought does not make a final decision on the validity of the patent invoked but makes an assessment as to how the court having jurisdiction under Article 22(4) of the Regulation would rule in that regard, and will refuse to adopt the provisional measure sought if it considers that there is a reasonable, non-negligible possibility that the patent invoked would be declared invalid by the competent court. Hence there is no risk of conflicting decisions: the interim proceedings have been brought will not in any way prejudice the decision to be taken on the substance by the court having jurisdiction under Article 22(4) .

‘…does not make a final decision’: this effectively means that the Court simply states that as long as the main condition of Article 31 is met [measures covered by Article 31 need to be ‘provisional’; see also Case C-261/90 Reichert], Article 22(4) does not interfere with a court’s jurisdiction under Article 31.

Geert.