Posts Tagged Fraus omnia corrumpit
LIC Telecommunications et al v VTB Capital et al. High Court suggests autonomous EU approach to asymmetric choice of court. Also discusses contract and tort distinction, and abuse of process.
In  EWHC 1747 (Comm) LIC Telecommunications et al v VTB Capital et al Moulder J suggests an unorthodox interpretations of Article 25 of the Brussels Ia Regulation. (Note also her very critical view at 22 of one of the experts, whom she found having confused his role as expert with a role as advocate). Much of the lengthy judgment is devoted to intricate discussions of Luxembourgish corporate law (hence the need for expert evidence) and the jurisdictional issues are, somewhat illogically, discussed towards the end of the judgment, at 245 ff.
Maze, one of the defendants, acts as a manager of V2 pursuant to a directorship agreement dated 26 May 2015 (the “Directorship Agreement”). It relies on the effect of clause 19 of the Directorship Agreement and submitted that claims against it are subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of Luxembourg pursuant to Article 25 Brussels Ia. Clause 19 provides:
“for the benefit of the Manager, the Shareholder and the Company hereby irrevocably, specially and expressly agree that the courts of Luxembourg city have jurisdiction to settle any disputes in connection with this Agreement and accordingly submits to the jurisdiction of the courts of Luxembourg city. Nothing in this clause limits however the rights of the Manager to bring proceedings against the Company in connection with this Agreement in any other court of competent jurisdiction or concurrently in more than one jurisdiction.”
The clause is asymmetric aka hybrid aka unilateral. (See e.g. my discussion of Rothschild etc.). These clauses as I have noted elsewhere highlight the clear insufficiency of Brussels Ia’s new lex fori prorogati (including renvoi) rule for choice of court. Which court has been prorogated, hence also lex fori prorogati, is not clear when the clause is asymmetric.
Moulder J discusses  EWHC 161 (Comm) Commerzbank v Liquimar Tankers as precedent: I reviewed it here and signalled at the time that it would not be the last we would hear of the issue. In that case Cranston J held ‘There is nothing in Article 25 that a valid jurisdiction agreement has to exclude any courts, in particular non EU Courts. Article 17, penultimate paragraph, of the Brussels Convention recognised asymmetric jurisdiction clauses. To my mind it would need a strong indication that Brussels 1 Recast somehow renders what is a regular feature of financial documentation in the EU ineffective.‘ I was never taken by that conclusion viz the Brussels Convention: its Article 17 reference to a party having ‘benefit’ from choice of court does not relate entirely to the same discussion on asymmetric clauses (Peralla v Codere  EWHC 1182 (Comm) which I discussed here illustrates that difference).
At any rate I disagree with Moulder J’s statement at 254 that
It is now common ground that it is a question of autonomous EU law and not a question of national law. (It was I believe accepted that the proviso “unless the agreement is null and void as to its substantive validity” refers to issues such as capacity, fraud and mistake, not whether particular kinds of “choice of court” agreements are permitted under the Regulation).
Asymmetric clauses are the first example often given when highlighting the limited cover of Article 25 Brussels I a (and the need for certainty on the lex causae for choice of court). There is no autonomous interpretation there at all. I do agree however with the conclusion at 261: that Luxembourg courts, applying EU law, would not uphold such clauses was not made out on the evidence. Luxembourgish courts at least when they apply Luxembourgish law, generally uphold the validity of asymmetric choice of court.
At 263 ff then follows discussion of Article 7(1) and 7(2). Much of the authority discussed has been reviewed on this blog. (Including Bosworth (Arcadia) which in the meantime has been held by the CJEU but without the contract /tort element – the CJEU found against a contract of employment). Moulder J holds that Article 7(2) is engaged, not 7(1), and on the former discusses locus delicti commissi with reference to JSC BTA Bank v Khrapunov. At 295: it is not sufficient that there are meetings in England to implement the conspiracy, it is the making of the agreement in England which is to be regarded as the harmful event. Claimants have not supplied a plausible evidential basis that the agreement was made in England. Their evidence is consistent with a case that the conspiracy was implemented in England but that is not sufficient.
As for locus damni, at 298: Even though the share purchase agreement was under English law, it is the loss of the shares in the Luxembourg company which is the pleaded damage not the agreement to sell or the auction. The Vivacom group consists of Bulgarian telecommunications companies which were held by InterV through Viva Luxembourg Bulgaria EOOD (paragraph 3 of the Agreed List of Agreed Issues). Locus damni is Bulgaria, perhaps Luxembourg. But not England.
Finally, abuse of process considerations are linked to English procedural law (whether claims should have been brought sooner).
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.9, Heading 22.214.171.124, Heading 126.96.36.199 .
Reitbauer: contract, pauliana and exclusive jurisdictional rules. CJEU simply applies Feniks, its forum contractus view remains unconvincing.
Update 18 July 2019 for an alternative view, see Michael McParland QC here. Michael’s point of view is that of the construction sector, and avoiding ‘debt dodging’. Ours (mine, below, and Michiel Poesen’s here) is the excessive stretch of the notion of contract.
Tanchev AG’s focus on fraus arguable reconciles both – but the Court did not follow.
I reviewed Tanchev AG’s Opinion in C‑722/17 Reitbauer here. Readers best refer to it to get insight into the complex factual matrix. The CJEU held on Wednesday last week- no English version of the judgment is as yet available.
In essence applicants are attempting to anchor their pauliana unto A24(5)’s enforcement jurisdiction. Failing that, the anchor might be A24(1)’s locus rei sitae exclusive jurisdictional rule.
The Court like the AG rejects jurisdiction on the basis of Article 24(5). They are right: A25(5) must not resurrect merits claims on much wider issues (claim for compensation of applicants’ debt, objections concerning the non-existence of a claim underlying a judicially ordered auction, and concerning the invalidity of the creation of the pledge for that claim under a loan agreement).
Court and AG are also right in rejecting Article 24(1) jurisdiction. The issues at stake are far removed from the reasons which justify exclusive jurisdiction. (The Court refers to Komu, Schmidt, Weber).
Then, surprisingly (for it was not part of the questions asked; the AG entertained it but that is what AGs do) the Court completes the analysis proprio motu with consideration of Article 7(1)’s forum contractus rule, with respect to claimants’ argument that the acknowledgement of debt by Isabel, cannot be used against them. Tanchev AG as I noted essentially suggested a limitation of Feniks to cases of fraus – arguably present here. At 59-60 the Court simply notes that all creditors were ‘contractually’ linked to Isabel C, and then applies Feniks to come to a finding of contractual relation between claimants and Mr Casamassima: without any reference to the fraus element (I had indeed suspected the Court would not so quickly vary its own case-law).
The AG did not discuss the place of performance of the contract (between Reitbauer et al and Mr Casamassima – this was exactly one of the sticky points signalled by Bobek AG in Feniks). The CJEU however does, and at 61 simply identifies that as the place where the underlying contract, between Isabel C and the building contractors, had to be performed: that is, the place of the renovation works in Austria.
That an Article 7(1) forum was answered at all, is surprising. That the place of performance of that contract is straightforwardly assimilated with the underlying contractual arrangement, is not necessarily convincing. That Feniks would not so soon be varied (if at all), was to be expected.
Forum contractus is surely stretching to forum abundantum.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 188.8.131.52
Stand alone cartel damages suits: The High Court in Media Saturn Holding v Toshiba on anchoring jurisdiction.
In  EWHC 1095 (Ch) Media Saturn Holding v Toshiba et al, Barling J is concerned with stand-alone damages suits following the European Commission decision in COMP/39437 – TV and Monitor Tubes. None of the Defendants was an addressee of the Decision (some of their parent companies were). The claims are, therefore, “standalone” rather than “follow-on” actions, and the Decision is not binding on the court so far as the claims against the Defendants are concerned, as it would have been had the Defendants been addressees. Nevertheless, Claimants place considerable reliance upon the evidential effect of the Decision.
Claims are strike out and summary judgment application, intertwined with challenges to jurisdiction. These essentially relate to there being no arguable claim against the “anchor” defendants, particularly Toshiba Information Systems UK ltd – TIS.
At 114: Claimants refute the suggestion that the claim has been brought against TIS on a speculative basis in the hope that something may turn up on disclosure and/or simply to provide an anchor defendant for jurisdictional purposes. They point to the Commission’s finding, at Recital 595, that the cartel was implemented in the EEA through sales of cartelised CPTs that had been integrated into the finished products.
The substantive law issue of implementation of the cartel therefore is brought in not just to argue (or refute) summary dismissal, but also to shore (or reject) the jurisdictional claim under Article 8(1) Brussels 1a.
Barling J establishes as common ground (at 90) that ‘as a matter of law an entity can infringe Article 101(1) TFEU and Article 53 EEA if it participates in relevant cartel activity, in the sense of being a party to an agreement or concerted practice which falls within that Article, or if it knowingly implements a cartel to which it may not have been a party in that sense. [counsel for defendants] submitted that there is no arguable case that TIS had the requisite knowledge. However, what is sufficient knowledge for this purpose is not common ground’.
At 300 ff the most recent CJEU authority is discussed: C-724/17 Vantaan kaupunki v Skanska of March 2019.
This leads to a relevant discussion on ‘implementation’ of the cartel, which mutatis mutandis is also relevant to Article 7(2) (locus delicti commissi). At 117-118:
‘TIS [similar arguments are discussed viz other defendants, GAVC] was involved in activities which were important to the operation of the cartel from the Toshiba perspective. These included the manufacture of CTVs using the cartelised product acquired from an associated company which itself was one of the established cartelists, and the onward sale of the transformed product. TIS also had direct commercial dealings with the Claimants relating to bonuses on sales of, inter alia, the transformed products. In my judgment there is an arguable case that those activities amounted to the actus reus of participation in and/or implementation of the cartel. The available material is sufficient to preclude the summary disposal of that issue.’
At 139 ff much CJEU and national authority is discussed, viz a variety of the defendants, on the issue of ‘implementation’ for summary dismissal on substantive grounds, a discussion which then at 259 ff is applied to the jurisdiction issue. Reference is made to Brownlie v Four Seasons, to C-103/05 Reisch Montage and of course to C-352/13 CDC. At 273 Barling J distinguishes excellently in my view between predictability as part of the DNA of CJEU Brussels Ia case-law on the one hand, and its treatment (and rejection) as a stand-alone criterion on the other hand:
‘[argument of counsel] is in danger of treating the statement of the CJEU in Reisch Montage as adding a free-standing and distinct criterion of foreseeability to the preconditions of application expressly set out in Article 8(1). If that criterion were to be applied generally, and without reference to those express pre-conditions, there would be a risk of the EU law principle of legal certainty being compromised, instead of respected as Reisch Montage expressly requires. That case states that the special rule in Article 8(1) must be interpreted so as to ensure legal certainty. The special rule’s express precondition is that “the claims are so closely connected that it is expedient to hear and determine them together to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgments…” Therefore, by virtue of Reisch Montage, it is those words that must be interpreted strictly so as to respect legal certainty and thereby ensure foreseeability. In other words, foreseeability is inextricably linked to the closeness of the connection between the two sets of claims, and the criterion will be satisfied if a sufficiently close connection of the kind described in Article 8(1) exists.’
And at 276
‘It is correct that the anchor defendants were not addressees of the Decision and that there were no UK addressees. However, there is no reason why this should be significant. Article 8(1) is capable of applying in a competition claim regardless of whether a Commission infringement decision exists. What matters is that there is a claim that the anchor defendant is guilty of an infringement, and that the case against the non-anchor defendant is sufficiently “closely connected” to that claim within the meaning and for the purposes of Article 8(1). The fact that neither entity is an addressee of a Commission decision (if there is one) and that neither is the subject of any other regulatory process or civil claim relating to the cartel, is, if not immaterial, then of marginal relevance.’
For all anchor defendants the conclusion is that there is an arguable claim that they participated in and/or knowingly implemented the cartel. That strongly militates against the sole purpose of the (two sets of) proceedings being to oust the jurisdiction of the other EU courts. No abuse has occurred.
At 316 a final postscript is added suggesting summarily that the Supreme Court’s Vedanta might have an impact on the ‘abuse’ issue. The judgment concerned inter alia an alleged abuse of EU law in the context of the predecessor provision to Article 8(1). The Court gave consideration to the test for the “sole purpose” issue. At 317: Barling J: ‘I can see no basis on which my conclusions in that regard are affected by this decision.’
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 184.108.40.206.
A very brief post mainly for archival purposes particularly with a view to comparative conflict of laws. Tozzini Freire review the new Article 25 of Brasil’s civil procedure rules here, with a focus on the ‘international’ element required to trigger the validity of choice of court (compare Vinyls Italia), and the potential application of fraus in same.
Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.7.1. Chapter 3, Heading 220.127.116.11
Arcelor Mittal v Essar. The High Court races ahead in its support for arbitration. On comity, fraud, and worldwide freezing orders.
 EWHC 724 (Comm) ArcelorMittal USA LLC v Essar Steel Limited and others is quite the highlight in worldwide regulatory competition for championing arbitration.
As 20 Essex Street note, Jacobs J refused to vary an earlier worldwide freezing order (WFO), despite the award being foreign, Claimant and Defendant companies being foreign, there being no significant assets within the jurisdiction, and the courts at Mauritius (defendant is Mauritius-incorporated, defendant to the Arbitration Claim, and the debtor under the ICC award) potentially feeling gazumped by their English colleagues.
Of note over and above Essex Street’s analysis is
- the defendants urging the Court on the grounds of comity (no need for the English courts to act at policeman for assets located abroad: at 72, referring to Popplewell J. in Conocophillips China Inc v Greka Energy (International) BV.  EWHC 2733) to resist the call for a WFO. This was rejected (at 81) with the argument ‘I consider that I am entitled to proceed on the basis of the evidence that the Mauritian courts would not regard the WFO as offensive in some way.’; and ‘The WFO does not presently conflict with any order of the Mauritian courts, and this is not a case where the Mauritian courts have refused equivalent relief or where there is evidence that those courts would be likely to do so.’ Jacobs J therefore does consider comity quite carefully.
- the Court’s sense of urgency in what it sees as a case of fraus: At 45:
‘There is no precise definition of what is meant by the phrase “international fraud” found in the case-law, but I do not consider that it is confined to cases where the underlying cause of action is a claim in deceit or a proprietary claim relating to the theft of assets. If there is a strong case of serious wrongdoing comprising conduct on a large or repeated scale whereby a company, or the group of which it is a member, is acting in a manner prejudicial to its creditors, and in bad faith, then I see no reason why the English court should not be willing to intervene rather than to stand by and allow the conduct to continue and, to put the matter colloquially, to let the wrongdoer get away with it. In the present case, I would regard the attempted dissipation of Essar Steel’s US$ 1.5 billion asset, in the face of the commencement of arbitration proceedings, as sufficient in itself potentially to warrant intervention under the “international fraud” exception, or as constituting “exceptional circumstances”.’
- and the rejection at 73 of a CJEU C-391/95 Van Uden type of restraint, requiring a real connecting link between the subject matter of the measures sought and the territorial jurisdiction of the English court.
Tanchev AG in Reitbauer: contract, pauliana and exclusive jurisdictional rules. Suggests restriction of CJEU Feniks to cases of fraus.
A little bit of factual background (and imagination; I shall let readers’ imagination run their course) is needed to appreciate Tanchev AG’s Opinion last week in C‑722/17 Reitbauer, which engages Articles 24(1) and (5), and Article 7(1).
It is alleged in the ‘opposition proceedings’ at issue that the claim of creditor A (the defendant in the CJEU proceeding, Mr Casamassima), which arises from a loan agreement secured by a pledge, and which competes with a counterclaim of creditors B (the applicants at the CJEU: Reitbauer and Others) is invalid due to the (wrongful) preferential treatment of creditor A. This objection is similar to what is known under Austrian law as an action for avoidance (Anfechtungsklage).
The defendant, Mr Casamassima and Isabel C. (‘the debtor’) are resident in Rome and lived together, at least until the spring of 2014. In 2010, they purchased a house in Villach, Austria; and the debtor, Isabel C, was registered in the land register as being the sole owner.
Contracts for extensive renovation work of the house were entered into between Isabel and the CJEU applicants, contracts which were entered into with the ‘participation’ of Mr Casamassima. Because the costs of the renovation work far exceeded the original budget, payments to Reitbauer et al were suspended. From 2013 onwards, Reitbauer et al were therefore involved in judicial proceedings in Austria against Isabel. Early 2014, the first judgment was handed down in favour of the applicants, and others followed. Isabel appealed against those judgments.
On 7 May 2014 before a court in Rome, Isabel acknowledged Mr Casamassima’s claim against her with respect to a loan agreement, amounting to EUR 349 772.95. She undertook to pay this amount to the latter within five years under a court settlement. In addition, Isabel undertook to have a mortgage registered on the house in Villach (Austria) in order to secure Mr Casamassima’s claim [the amount of the claim is the result of compensation between the original claim and a counterclaim. Isabel requested Mr C to pay her for overtime work. Mr C requested approximately EUR 380 000 for the purchase of the house and the works. According to him the house belonged formally only to the debtor, who was registered as the sole owner, but the funds were provided by the defendant. Finally, the two parties reached an agreement, leading to the sum at issue].
Now we come to the issues sub judice: at 17 ff (footnotes omitted):
On 13 June 2014 a (further) certificate of indebtedness and pledge certificate was drawn up under Austrian law in Vienna by an Austrian notary to guarantee the above arrangement (pledge 1). With this certificate, the pledge on the house in Villach was created on 18 June 2014.
The judgments in favour of the applicants did not become enforceable until after this date. The pledges on the house of the debtor held by the applicants, obtained by way of legal enforcement proceedings (pledge 2), therefore rank behind the contractual pledge 1 in favour of the defendant.
On 3 September 2015, the court in Rome confirmed that the court settlement of 7 May 2014 constituted a European Enforcement Order.
In order to realise the pledge, the defendant applied in February 2016 to the referring court (Bezirksgericht Villach (District Court, Villach, Austria)) for an order against the debtor, requiring a compulsory auction of the house in Villach. The house was auctioned off in the autumn of 2016 for EUR 280 000. The order of entries in the land register shows that the proceeds would go more or less entirely to the defendant because of pledge 1 (registered under Austrian law in June 2014).
With a view to preventing this, the applicants brought an action for avoidance (Anfechtungsklage) in June 2016 before the Landesgericht Klagenfurt (Regional Court, Klagenfurt, Austria) against the defendant and the debtor. The action was dismissed by that court ‘due to a lack of international jurisdiction in view of the [debtor’s and the defendant’s] domicile’ outside of Austria. In July 2017, that decision became final.
At the same time the applicants filed an opposition before the referring court (Bezirksgericht Villach (District Court, Villach)) at the hearing of 10 May 2017 regarding the distribution of the proceeds from the compulsory auction, and subsequently brought opposition proceedings, as provided for in the EO, against the defendant.
In these opposition proceedings, the applicants seek a declaration that the decision regarding the distribution to the defendant of EUR 279 980.43 was not legally valid in so far as: (i) the debtor had damages claims against the defendant of at least the same amount as the claim arising from the loan agreement, with the result that a claim no longer existed (they claim that the debtor confirmed that the defendant had placed orders with the applicants without her knowledge and consent); and (ii) the certificate of indebtedness and pledge certificate of June 2014 were drawn up merely as a formality and for the purpose of pre-empting and preventing the applicants from bringing any enforcement proceedings in relation to the house.
There we are. In essence applicants are attempting to anchor their pauliana unto A24(5)’s enforcement jurisdiction, in which case Mr C’s enforcement action has acted as a Trojan horse. (Note a similar potential in Kerr v Postnov(a)). Failing that, the anchor might be A24(1)’s locus rei sitae exclusive jurisdictional rule.
Mr C contends in substance that A24(5) B1a does not apply. He argues that the action lacks a direct connection to official enforcement measures: what is being sought is a substantive examination of the pledge entered into in his favour. By its nature, the action lodged is equivalent to an action for avoidance; and in Reichert the CJEU has already ruled that this jurisdiction is not applicable to actions for avoidance. This must therefore also apply if the action for avoidance is exercised by way of an opposition against the distribution and ensuing opposition proceedings. Moreover, he argues A24(1) B1a is not applicable, as in the opposition proceedings the connection with the location of the house at issue is lacking (the opposition proceedings took place only after the immovable property had been auctioned off by the court).
The AG first of all at 39 ff rejects jurisdiction on the basis of Article 24(5). I believe he is right: see my Trojan horse suggestion above. A25(5) must not resurrect merits claims on much wider issues (claim for compensation of applicants’ debt, objections concerning the non-existence of a claim underlying a judicially ordered auction, and concerning the invalidity of the creation of the pledge for that claim under a loan agreement ) for which the enforcement court does not have original jurisdiction. Neither does A24(1) ground jurisdiction: parallel with Reichert is obvious.
Then however the AG, sensing perhaps the suggestions of fraudulent construction, suggests Article 7(1)’s’ forum contractus as a way out – not something which the referring court had enquired about hence quite possible the CJEU might not entertain it. Clearly per Handte there is a contract between applicants and Isabel. However is Mr C involved, too?: the AG draws on Feniks: at 72 ff: in Feniks the CJEU does not require knowledge by the defendant of the first contract, nor does it require an intention to defraud. However in casu it looks like there might be both (subject to factual review by the referring court). At 84: ‘Given the fact that in the judgment in Feniks the jurisdiction in contractual matters in disputes brought against a third party was extended to an actio pauliana even though there was no contractual relationship between the applicant and the defendant, knowledge of a third party should act as a limiting factor: as in the present case, the third party needs to know that the legal act binds the defendant to the debtor and that that causes harm to the contractual rights of another creditor of the debtor (the applicants).’
And at 92: ‘the defendant’s knowledge of the existence of the contract(s) at issue is important.’
The AG is essentially suggesting a limitation of Feniks to cases of fraus – it is unlikely that the CJEU will follow (and vary Feniks so soon). However it is clear that knowledge of the contract between the other parties, particularly where supported by elements of fraus, will increase the potential for application of the (in my view problematic) Feniks route. Note the AG does not discuss the place of performance of the contract (between Reitbauer et al and Mr C – this was exactly one of the sticky points signalled by Bobek AG in Feniks).
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 18.104.22.168