Posts Tagged Forum
Thank you Stephen Pittel for flagging 2017 SCC 33 Douez v Facebook Inc. Stephen also discusses the forum non conveniens issue and I shall leave that side of the debate over to him. What is interesting for comparative purposes is the Supreme Court’s analysis of the choice of court clause in consumer contracts, which it refuses to enforce under public policy reasons, tied to two particular angles:
- ‘The burdens of forum selection clauses on consumers and their ability to access the court system range from added costs, logistical impediments and delays, to deterrent psychological effects. When online consumer contracts of adhesion contain terms that unduly impede the ability of consumers to vindicate their rights in domestic courts, particularly their quasi-constitutional or constitutional rights, public policy concerns outweigh those favouring enforceability of a forum selection clause.’ (emphasis added)
Infringement of privacy is considered such quasi-constitutional right.
- ‘Tied to the public policy concerns is the “grossly uneven bargaining power” of the parties. Facebook is a multi-national corporation which operates in dozens of countries. D is a private citizen who had no input into the terms of the contract and, in reality, no meaningful choice as to whether to accept them given Facebook’s undisputed indispensability to online conversations.’
With both angles having to apply cumulatively, consumers are effectively invited to dress up their suits as involving a quasi-constitutional issue, even if all they really want is their PSP to be exchanged, so to speak. I suspect however Canadian courts will have means of sorting the pretended privacy suits from the real ones.
A great judgment for the comparative binder (see also Jutta Gangsted and mine paper on forum laboris in the EU and the US here).
Kaynes v BP PLC. A good Canadian illustration of forum non conveniens to shareholder pursuit of non-disclosure.
With many conflict of laws classes fresh underway, it is good to be reminded of the classics. Forum non conveniens was at issue in Kaynes v BP, at the Court of Appeal for Ontario. There is a pending class action in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas. The class in that proceeding includes current plaintiff and other Canadian investors who purchased BP securities on the NYSE.
The judgment has ample and concise background, please refer to it for same. The Court of appeal has now lifted a stay, previously put in place on forum non conveniens ground, in light of changed circumstance. The U.S. District Court judge ruled that as the moving party and his proposed Canadian class were members of the class represented by the lead plaintiffs, he was not entitled to now assert a separate class action based upon a claim that the lead plaintiffs had not pursued. Second, the U.S. District Court judge ruled that the moving party’s claim was time-barred under the Ontario Securities Act. Plaintiff and other members of his proposed class are free to pursue individual claims in the U.S. District Court (not already represented in the class action) based on Ontario securities law, subject to any defences BP may advance, including a limitations defence. (Note that the US court therefore holds limitations to be part of the lex causae, not lex fori).
Since the US court do not claim exclusive jurisdiction over the litigation, and given that if a case were to go ahead in the US, it would be subject to Ontario law, the stay was lifted.
The case is a good illustration that forum non conveniens is live and evolving, not static.
Postscript 24 September 2015: the incoterm ‘ex works’ was at issue in Cimtrode The Electrode Company GmbH v Carbide BV at Gerechtshof ‘s-Hertogenbosch. Judgment (on appeal) was issued 1 September 2015. The court held inter alia that whether the incoterm was actually part of the agreement between parties, could only be judged in accordance with the lex causae. The agreement was a verbal agreement, and any choice of court which one of the parties claimed had been made, had not been confirmed in writing. Reference to relevant standard terms and conditions on the invoices sent later, following execution of the agreement, could not, the court held, be regarded as confirmation of the choice of court.
In Rhoonse Recycling & Service BV v BSS Heavy Machinery GmbH, the Court at Rotterdam first of all discussed the factual circumstance of a possible choice of court agreement between parties, in favour of the courts at Eberswalde (Germany). Such choice of court is made in the general terms and conditions of seller, BSS. Whether parties had actually agreed to these, was in dispute. Roonse suggests the reference on the front page of the order form to the general terms and conditions on the backside (‘umseitiger‘) was without subject for that back page was blank. The court therefore suggests that agreement depends on whether, as was suggested, the standard terms and conditions were attached (stapled, presumably) to the order form. Whether this was the case is a factual consideration which Rotterdam does not further entertain for even if the choice of court agreement is invalid, the court found it would not have jurisdiction under the only other alternative: Article 7(1) special jurisdictional rule for ‘contracts’.
Rhoonse suggest that the parties had agreed that the contract, a delivery of good, is performed in Rotterdam for that, it argues, is where delivery took place per the Incoterm CPT (carriage paid to). The CJEU has flagged the inconclusive effect of the mere use of Incoterms for the purposes of finding an agreement between parties under Article 7, in Electrosteel Case C-87/10 (in that case with respect to the use of ‘ex works’) and has generally insisted, per Car Trim Case C-381/08 that the courts need to make reference to all relevant terms and conditions in the agreement so as to determine the place of delivery.
Rotterdam in casu held the Incoterm CPT Rotterdam as being mostly a reference to costs, not place of delivery. Where it is impossible to determine the place of delivery on that basis, without reference to the substantive law applicable to the contract, that place at least for the sale of goods, the CJEU held, is the place where the physical transfer of the goods took place, as a result of which the purchaser obtained, or should have obtained, actual power of disposal over those goods at the final destination of the sales transaction. In casu, this was found to be in the geographical jurisdiction of the courts at Den Haag. Given that Article 7(1) does not merely identify the courts of a Member State but rather a specific court within a Member State, Rotterdam has no jurisdiction.
The case is a good reminder of the limited power of Incoterms to determine jurisdiction. Better have a specific choice of court clause (which here may or may not have presented itself here in the general terms and conditions of seller).
Chinachem: Forum non conveniens, non-exclusive choice of court and concurrent proceedings in Hong Kong and Mainland China.
I reported earlier on the waiver of privilege issues in Chinachem. The Hong Kong High Court has now also ruled on the issue of application of forum non conveniens in the event of concurrent proceedings in Hong Kong and mainland China. In a lengthy judgment (particularly resulting from extensive summary of counsel arguments but also of relevant precedent), Ng J recalls English precedent on forum non conveniens (Spiliada evidently being featured) and the way in which said precedent has been applied in Hong Kong. (Carrie Tai has excellent overview here).
Contract between the parties included choice of court and choice of law as follows: ‘This Agreement shall be governed by the laws of Hong Kong and it shall be construed by the laws of Hong Kong. Both parties agree to submit to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of Hong Kong.’
Ng J in the end rejects all arguments suggesting a stay in favour of the mainland proceedings. In doing so, she confirmed the tendency of Hong Kong courts (like indeed their English common law counterparts) to only brush aside choice of court in exceptional circumstance. Even if that choice of court is, such as here, non-exclusive. The concurrent proceedings stand.
There is an obvious downside to the European Court of Justice’s judicial economy. The Court often leaves unanswered many questions asked by national courts without an answer to them being strictly necessary for the case at hand. Evidently quite a few of those resurface in later practice. Owusu is a case in point. Many postings on this blog have entertained the unanswered questions left by the ECJ’s seminal rejection of Forum Non Conveniens. UK courts in particular have leapt on the opportunity to distinguish Owusu, effectively now leading to a fairly narrow context in which Owusu is applied. As recently as Jong v HSBC on which I reported last week, the High Court professed sympathy for vacating a case pending in the UK and having it joined to proceedings in Monaco, on ‘case management’ grounds.
In Plaza v The Law Debenture Trust, Proudman J dealt with a UK fallout of longstanding litigation inter alia in Australia, following the insolvency of the Australian Bell group in the 1990s. Curacao is COMI. Secondary or ancillary proceedings were opened in Australia. A variety of litigation mostly concerning priority of claims and timely (or not) execution of securities, led among others to a 2013 Deed of Settlement between parties to the current litigation. The Law Debenture trust (LDTC) is trustee for a number of bonds issued by Bell, some of which are held by Plaza (these bonds contain a non-exclusive choice of court in favour of England). Others are held inter alia by the Insurance Commission of Western Australia (ICWA).
The 2013 Deed contains an exclusive choice of court clause in favour of Western Australia. Plaza, incorporated in Curacao, sues LDTC, domiciled in the UK, in England, basically questioning its suitability as a trustee for the bonds, citing alleged conflicts of interest (LDTC may or may not be acting under instruction of ICWA).
Proudman J essentially had to decide whether Article 23 (now Article 25) of the Jurisdiction Regulation in its original version (the recast does not apply) ought to be applied reflexively (protecting choice of court in favour of non-EU courts); alternatively, whether Article 28 of the same Regulation (the lis alibi pendens rule) may be so applied; and what the impact of the ECJ’s rejection of forum non conveniens is on this all.
Ferrexpo in particular assisted her in holding that reflexive application of Article 23 (now 25) of the Brussels I Regulation is not barred by Owusu. The main argument for this approach lies in the judicial economy which I cite above: the ECJ was asked but did not entertain the question. Moreover Article 23 is a more dominant rule in the Regulation than Article 2 (now 4)’s rule referring to domicile of the defendant: a mandatory exception to the rule of Article 2 rather than, in the words of Proudman J, a discretionary exception such as forum non conveniens.
Subsidiarily, the High Court also suggests Article 28’s lis alibi pendens rule ought to apply reflexively, although it expressly suggests more discussion of that point is needed and the Article need not be laboured in the case at issue, given its finding on Article 23.
To heap further pressure on the Owusu pile, a further potential for undermining finding in Owusu is suggested in the shape of ‘case management powers’, also suggested in Jong and hinted at as potentially introducing forum non conveniens through the back door.
With Plaza v Debenture, application of Owusu by the English courts now is so distinguished, arguably little is left of the ECJ’s original intentions. One assumes: for as I noted above, judicial economy allowed national courts to be creative in their application of the rule. The issue is bound to end up again at the ECJ at some point.
Jong v HSBC. Unilateral jurisdiction clauses, anchor defendants viz parties ex-EU and evading Owusu.
Postscript 30 October 2015: the Court of Appeal confirmed (rejecting appeal) on 22 October 2015.
Often, progress is assisted by assimilation hence I shall not repeat the excellent review of Jong v HSBC by Andy McGregor and Daniel Hemming. (It will be posted here soon, I imagine). Nor indeed will I simply regurgitate how Purle J eloquently dealt with the various jurisdictional issues in the case. Let me instead highlight the main issues:
Plaintiff, Ms Jong, has a contractual dispute with HSBC Monaco SA concerning the proper execution of foreign exchange orders. That the law of Monaco applies does not seem under dispute. HSBC Monaco’s standard terms and conditions, which may or may not apply, contain inter alia a classic unilateral jurisdiction clause: “Any litigation between the client and the bank shall be submitted to the exclusive jurisdiction of the competent Monaco courts at the offices of the bank location where the account is open. Nevertheless the bank reserves the right to take action at the place of the client’s residence or in any other court which would have been competent in the absence of the preceding election of jurisdiction“.
The bank so far has not exercised the clause. (No proceedings are as yet pending in Monaco). Monaco evidently is not covered by the Brussels I Regulation (nor indeed by the Lugano Convention).
Co-defendants are the HSBC Holding and HSBC Private Bank. Ms Jong did have contact with these over the alleged level of service. Perhaps unusually, Ms Jong (or rather, her lawyers) decided to issue proceedings against HSBC Monaco first. The English co-defendants were only added later, quite clearly in an effort to support the exercise of jurisdiction over HSBC Monaco.
The Brussels I-Regulation’s rules on anchor defendants (Article 6; now Article 8 in the recast. Note that the recast does not apply to the case at issue) do not apply to non-EU defendants: whether or not these can be drawn into the procedural bath with the EU defendants, depends therefore on residual national conflicts law. Purle J takes parties and readers through the relevant case-law and holds that while there may be objections to Monaco as a jurisdiction, none of them carries enough weight to override the exclusive choice of court clause.
Of particular note is that Purle J considers (at 26), again with reference to precedent, whether the case against the English defendants may potentially be stayed in favour of having them joined to proceedings in Monaco. (In that precedent, it was suggested that the clear rejection of forum non conveniens in Owusu, may not stand in the way of a stay on ‘sensible case management’ grounds, rather than forum non conveniens grounds). Purle J justifiably hesitates (‘the court must be careful not to evade the impact of Owusu v Jackson through the back door’), before dismissing the suggestion given that no case is as yet pending in Monaco. It is noteworthy that the latter would, incidentally, be a condition for the (strictly choreographed) lis alibi pendens rule of the Brussels I recast to apply (Article 33). I would certainly argue that Owusu and the ECJ’s reasoning behind it, would exclude such recourse to a de facto forum non conveniens rule.