Wikingerhof v Booking.com. Saugmandsgaard AG on the qualification in contract or tort of alleged abuse of dominant position between contracting parties. Invites the Court to confirm one of two possible readings of Brogsitter.

Saugmandsgaard AG opined yesterday in C-59/19 Wikingerhof v Booking.com (no English version of the Opinion at the time of writing). At issue is whether allegations of abuse of dominant position create a forum contractus (Article 7(1) Brussels Ia) or a forum delicti (A7(2) BIa).

I published on jurisdiction and applicable law earlier this year and I am as always genuinely humbled with the AG’s (three) references to the handbook.  Wikingerhof submits inter alia that it only ever agreed to Booking.com’s general terms and conditions (‘GTCs’) because Booking.com’s dominant position leaves it no choice. And that it had most certainly not agreed to updates to the GTCs, effected via amendments on the ‘Extranet’, which is the portal via which the hotel may update its information and retrieve reservations.

At 16 of its referral, the Bundesgerichtshof holds acte clair and therefore without reference to the CJEU that there is no durable record of the alleged consent by Wikingerhof of the amended GTCs, including choice of court. Booking.com claimed these amounted to a ‘form which accords with practices which the parties have established between themselves’ pursuant to Article 25(1)(b). This finding echoes the requirements of housekeeping which I signalled yesterday.

In my 2020 paper I point out (p.153) inter alia that in the context of Article 25’s choice of court provisions, the CJEU in C-595/17 Apple v eBizcuss suggested a fairly wide window for actions based on Article 102 TFEU’s prohibition of abuse of dominant position to be covered by the choice of court. At 28 in Apple v eBizcuss: ‘the anti-competitive conduct covered by Article 102 TFEU, namely the abuse of a dominant position, can materialise in contractual  relations that an undertaking in a dominant position establishes and by means of contractual terms’. The AG as I note below distinguished Apple on the facts and applicable rule.

In the request for preliminary ruling of the referring court, CJEU C-548/12 Brogsitter features repeatedly. The Bundesgerichtshof itself is minded to hold for forum delicti, given that (at 24 of its reference)

‘ it is not the interpretation of the contract that is the focus of the legal disputes  between the parties, but rather the question of whether the demand for specific contractual conditions or the invoking of them by a company with an — allegedly — dominant market position is to be regarded as abusive and is therefore in breach of provisions of antitrust law.

In fact on the basis of the request, the court could have held acte clair. It referred anyway which gives the AG the opportunity to write a complete if  to begin with concise précis on the notion of ‘contract’ and ‘tort’ in BIa. At 38, this leads him to conclude inter alia that despite the need strictly to interpret exceptions to the A4 actor sequitur forum rei rule, these exceptions including the special jurisdictional fori contractus ut delicti, must simply be applied with their purpose in mind.

He calls it an application ‘assouplie’, best translated perhaps as ‘accommodating’ (readers may check this against the English version when it comes out) (viz tort, too, the AG uses the term assouplie, at 45, referring eg to CJEU C-133/11 Folien Fisher).

Further, the AG notes that in deciding whether the claim is one in contract, necessarily the claimant’s cause of action has an impact, per CJEU C-274/16 Flightright (at 61 of that judgment, itself refering to C‑249/16 Kareda which in turn refers to 14/76 De Bloos). The impact of claimant’s claim form evidently is a good illustration of the possibility to engineer or at least massage fora and I am pleased the AG openly discusses the ensuing forum shopping implications, at 58 ff. He starts however with signalling at 53 ff that the substantive occurrence of concurrent liability in contract and tort is subject to the laws of the Member States and clearly differs among them, making a short comparative inroad e.g. to English law, German law and Belgian /French law. (Michiel Poesen recently wrote on the topic within the specific context of the employment section).

The AG’s discussion of CJEU authority eventually brings him to Brogsitter. He he firmly supports a minimalist interpretation.  This would mean that only if the contractual context is indispensable for the judge to rule on the legality or not of the parties’ behaviour, is forum contractus engaged. This is similar to his Opinion in Bosworth, to which he refers. He rejects the maximalist interpretation. This approach puts forward that contractual qualification trumps non-contractual (arguably, a left-over of CJEU Kalfelis; but as the AG notes at 81: there is most certainly not such a priority at the applicable law level between Rome I and II) hence the judge regardless of the claimant’s formulation of claim, must qualify the claim as contractual when on the facts a link may exist between the alleged shortcomings of the other party, and the contract.

The maximum interpretation, at 76 ff, would require the judge to engage quite intensively with the merits of the case. That would go against the instructions of the CJEU (applying the Brussels Convention (e.g. C-269/95 Benincasa)), and it would (at 77) undermine a core requirement of the Brussels regime which is legal certainty. That the minimalist approach might lead to multiplication of trials seeing as not all issues would be dealt with by the core forum contractus, is rebuked at 85 by reference to the possibility of the A4 domicile forum (an argument which the CJEU itself used in Bier /Mines de Potasse to support the Mozaik implications of its ruling there) and by highlighting the Regulation’s many instances of support for forum shopping.

The AG then discusses abusive forum shopping following creative claim formulation at 88 ff. This  is disciplined both by the fact that as his comparative review shows, the substantive law of a number of Member States eventually will not allow for dual characterisation and hence reject the claim in substance. Moreover clearly unfounded claims will be disciplined by lex fori mechanisms (such as one imagines, cost orders and the like). This section confuses me a little for I had understood the minimalist approach to lay more emphasis on the judge’s detection of the claim’s DNA (along the lines of Sharpston AG in Ergo) than on the claim’s formulation.

The AG then continues with further specification of the minimalist approach, including at 112 a rejection, correct in my view (for the opposite would deny effet utile to A7(2), of the suggestion to give the A7(1) forum contractus the ancillary power to rule of over delictual (A7(2)) issues closely related to the contractual concerns.

Applying the minimalist test to the case at issue the AG concludes that it entails forum delicti, referring in support to CDC and distinguishing Apple v eBizcuss (which entails choice of court and relies heavily on textual wording of the clause).

It will be interesting to see which of the two possible interpretations of Brogsitter the CJEU will follow and whether it will clarify the forum shopping implications of claim formulation.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2, Heading 2.2.11.2.9.

 

SAS Institute v World Programming. A complicated enforcement saga continues.

Update 15 June 2020 as Gilles Cuniberti notes, enforcement jurisdiction (see towards the end of this post) ought to have involved some discussion of A24(5) Brussels Ia.

I reported earlier on complex enforcement issues concerning SAS Institute v World Programming. In [2020] EWCA Civ 599 SAS Institute Inc v World Programming Ltd Flaux J gives an overview of the various proceedings at 4:

The dispute between the parties has a long history. It includes an action brought by SAS against WPL in this country in which SAS’s claims were dismissed; a decision by WPL, following an unsuccessful challenge on forum non conveniens grounds, to submit to the jurisdiction of the North Carolina court and to fight the action there on the merits; a judgment in favour of SAS from the North Carolina court for some US $79 million; an attempt by SAS to enforce the North Carolina judgment in this jurisdiction which failed on the grounds that enforcement here would be (a) an abuse of process, (b) contrary to public policy and (c) prohibited by section 5 of the Protection of Trading Interests Act 1980 (“the PTIA”); and a judgment from the English court in favour of WPL for over US $5.4 million, which SAS has chosen to ignore.’

A good case to use therefore at the start of a conflicts course to show students the spaghetti bowl of litigation that may occur in civil litigation. There are in essence

  • English liability proceedings, decided in the end following referral to the CJEU (Case C-406/10);
  • North Carolina liability proceedings, in which WPL submitted to jurisdiction after an earlier win on forum non grounds was reversed on appeal and the NC courts came to the same conclusions as the English ones despite a finding they were not (clearly) under an obligation to apply EU law;
  • next, an SAS enforcement attempt in England which failed (with permission to appeal refused): my earlier post reviews it;
  • next, enforcement proceedings of the NC judgment in California. That CAL procedure includes an assignment order and WPL sought an anti-suit injunction to restrain SAS from seeking assignment orders as regards “customers, licensees, bank accounts, financial information, receivables and dealings in England”: it was not given the injunction for there was at the time no CAL assignment order pending which could be covered by anti-suit.
  • Currently, it seems, there is, and it is an anti-suit against these new assignment orders which is the object of the current proceedings.

At 59 ff follows a discussion of the situs of a debt; at 64 ff the same for jurisdiction re enforcement judgments, holding at 72

Applying these internationally recognised principles to the present case, the North Carolina and California courts have personal jurisdiction over WPL but do not have subject matter jurisdiction over debts owed to WPL which are situated in England. That is so notwithstanding that the losses for which the North Carolina court has given judgment were incurred by SAS in the United States. Nevertheless the effect of the proposed Assignment Order would be to require WPL to assign debts situated in England to SAS which would at least purport to discharge its customers from any obligation owed to WPL, while the effect of the proposed Turnover Order would be to require WPL to give instructions to its banks in England which would discharge the debts situated in England currently owed by the banks to WPL. In substance, therefore, the proposed orders are exorbitant in that they affect property situated in this country over which the California court does not have subject matter jurisdiction, thereby infringing the sovereignty of the United Kingdom.

Update 15 June 2020 as Gilles Cuniberti notes, enforcement jurisdiction ought to have involved some discussion of A24(5) Brussels Ia.

Which is later confirmed at 83. Consequently the earlier order is overturned: at 89: ‘it follows also that the judge’s conclusion that the Assignment and Turnover Orders were not “markedly exorbitant” was based upon a mistaken premise.’

The anti-suit and anti-enforcement applications are dealt with in particular with reference to comity, and largely granted with some collateral notices of intention by SAS not to seek a particular kind of enforcement.

Someone somewhere must have made partner on this litigation.

Geert.

 

 

Disciplining forum and process shopping. Mostyn J in I and L.

A quick note on [2020] EWHC 893 (Fam) I and L (children), in which Mostyn J berates and effectively disciplines a father’s abuse forum and process shopping.

At 11:

‘I pause at this point to reflect on the actions taken by the father. Not only did he act in bad faith, as I have explained, but he also was guilty not only of blatant forum shopping but also of process shopping. If the father had genuinely developed misgivings about the wisdom and merits of the parenting agreement signed by him on 5 August 2019 then the appropriate place to raise those misgivings was the court in South Africa [the habitual residence of the children, GAVC]. Instead, by a ruse de guerre he lured the mother and children to this jurisdiction where he immediately started proceedings in the forum which he considered to be most favourable to him. By striking pre-emptively he also selected the process which he considered most favourable to him. Had he merely retained the children on 3 January 2020 and awaited the mother to take steps in response she would, unquestionably, have raised a case under the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of Child Abduction. In such a process the welfare of the children, while being an important consideration, would not have been the paramount consideration. Instead, the court would have started with the position that the children should be returned to the place of their habitual residence unless the father could demonstrate a defence.’

In the end he held that under the Children Act, in which the welfare of the children is the paramount criterion, a return to their habitual residence (to be effected as fast as possible following the end of Covid-19 lock-down) is in their best interest, thus torpedoing the abuse. Clearly like in QD, the English courts do not appreciate cloak and dagger manipulation of forum or process.

Geert.

 

The French Supreme Court on fraus (abuse) and international adoptions.

Thank you Pailler Ludovic for signalling the French Supreme Court’s judgment in 18-24.261  A and X v et al B and Y et al. The Court annulled the Court of Appeal’s (Versailles) decision which had accepted for recognition and enforcement a Cameroonian judgment in a Cameroonian-French adoption case.

Legal basis for the refusal is Article 34 of the relevant 1974 FR- Cam Treaty. Specically, the classic ordre public international hurdle to recognition and enforcement: ‘Elle ne contient rien de contraire à l’ordre public de l’Etat où elle est invoquée ou aux principes de droit public applicables dans cet Etat.’

The Supreme Court held that absence of Agrément does not infringe French ordre public international (Agrément is required by French adoption law and needs to be sought by the prospective adoptant). Yet fraus (fraude à la loi) might and needs to be properly examined, which the Court of Appeal had failed to do. Suggestion is made in the case that the adoption was engineered with the sole purpose of facilitating the French rights of residence of the adopting father’s partner, who is the mother of the children.

The case emphasises the relevance of fraus omnia corrumpit. Whether of course fraus will be proven in the new proceedings before the Paris Court of Appeal remains to be seen.

Geert.

 

 

 

Punjab National Bank. In a complex set of claims, Owusu is never easily applied and material non-disclosure severely punished by the High Court.

In [2019] EWHC 3495 (Ch) Punjabi National Bank v Ravi Srnivasan et al three loan transactions lie at the core of the case. They were made between 29th March 2011 and 1st December 2014, and totaled some US$45 million. They were made for the purposes of oil re-refining and wind energy generating projects in the USA. Most defendants are all allegedly guarantors domiciled either in India or the USA. The borrowers themselves, with the exception of two defendants, both ex-EU, are not party to the proceedings because they are insolvent.

Proceedings concern both the enforcement of the loans but also allegations of fraud, and have also been started in the US and in India however these were not disclosed to the court at the time the original permission was sought to serve out of jurisdiction.

At first glimpse the case might be easily held, along the lines suggested by lead counsel for claimant: at 5 (iii). ‘A combination of the exclusive jurisdiction clauses and the strongly arguable claims in fraud pointed towards the need to try the whole matter in one jurisdiction. England was the only possible jurisdiction. The omission to disclose the US proceedings and the Chennai proceedings caused the defendants no prejudice as they knew from the loan documentation that PNB was at liberty to bring parallel enforcement proceedings in different jurisdictions. The Chief Master ought to have placed strong reliance on articles 3 and 5 of the Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements (the “Hague Convention”), and article 25 of The Recast Brussels Regulation (“Brussels Recast”), which obliged the court to accept jurisdiction where there were such exclusive jurisdiction clauses.’

Owusu v Jackson would suggest no entertainment at all of forum non conveniens. However the fraud allegations initially opened the door to a point of entry for forum non seeing as none of the defendants are EU based. Sir Geoffrey Vos at 63 lists the relevant factors: ‘the most important being the choice of jurisdiction clauses in both loan agreements and guarantees, the effect of Brussels Recast and the Hague Convention, the fact that some parallel proceedings can be necessary where enforcement against real property is required, and the centre of gravity of the lending relationship which was indeed in London. In addition, the US and Chennai proceedings did not cover the Pesco loans at all, so that disallowing English jurisdiction for those contractual claims prevented PNB from bringing proceedings in its main chosen jurisdiction in respect of that lending and the guarantees given in respect of it.’

In the end however Vos agreed with the initial assessment of the High Court which emphasised non-disclosure (undoubtedly an example of procedural fraus): notwithstanding England being the most appropriate forum for those contractual claims without clear choice of court, and without a doubt the English jurisdiction guarantees of the other loans, but also for the fraud claims, had they been (which they were not) seriously arguable as presently pleaded, (at 72) jurisdiction must be dismissed in light of the need to protect the administration of justice and uphold the public interest in requiring full and fair disclosure.

That is a strict approach in light of the choice of court made and an awkward way around the forceful nature of Article 25 Brussels Ia. An outcome of my discussion with Andrew Dickinson and Alex Layton, is (per Alex’ suggestion) that the High Court seems to have applied an Elefteria approach to choice of court rather than Article 25 BIa.

Geert.

 

PrivatBank v Kolomoisky and Boholiubov. The Court of Appeal reverses the High Court ia on abuse of the anchor mechanism. Further consideration, too, of the reflexive effect of Article 28’s lis alibi pendens, and of Article 34.

Update 18 May 2020 early April the Supreme Court ruled that it would not hear the case – which therefore stands as (complicated) authority.

The Court of Appeal in [2019] EWCA Civ 1708 has reversed [2018] EWHC 3308 (Ch) PrivatBank v Kolomoisky and Boholiubov et al which I reviewed here. When I tweeted the outcome on the day of release I said it would take a little while for a post to appear, which indeed it has. Do please refer to my earlier post for otherwise the comments below will be gobbledygook.

As a reminder: the High Court had set aside a worldwide freezing order (‘WFO’) granted earlier at the request of Ukraine’s PrivatBank, against Ihor Kolomoisky and Hennadiy Boholiubov – its two former main shareholders.

Fancourt J’s judgment implied in essence first of all, the Lugano Convention’s anchor defendant mechanism, concluding that any artificial fulfilment (or apparent fulfilment) of the express requirements of Article 6.1 is impermissible, and this includes a case where the sole object of the claim against the anchor defendant is to remove the foreign defendant from the jurisdiction of domicile. Bringing a hopeless claim is one example of such abuse, but the abuse may be otherwise established by clear evidence. In principle, the fact that there is a good arguable case against the anchor defendant should not prevent a co-defendant from establishing abuse on some other ground, including that the “sole object” of the claim is to provide jurisdiction against a foreign domiciled co-defendant.

The English Defendants serving as anchor, were not considered legitimate targets in their own right and hence the ‘sole object’ objection was met. 

The Court of Appeal in majority (Lord Newey at 270 ff dissenting) disagreed and puts particular emphasis on the non-acceptance by Parliament and Council at the time of adoption of Brussels I, of an EC proposal verbatim to include a sole object test like was done in Article (then) 6(2) (it also refers to drafters and rapporteur Jenard making a bit of a muddle of the stand-alone nature, or not, of the sole object test). Following extensive consideration of authority it decides there is no stand-alone sole object test in (now) Article 8(1) Brussels I (or rather, its Lugano equivalent) but rather that this test is implied in the Article’s condition of connectivity: at 110: ‘we accept Lord Pannick’s analysis that, as shown by the references to Kalfelis and Réunion,..that the vice in using article 6(1) to remove a foreign defendant from the courts of the state of his domicile was met by a close connection condition.’

Obiter it held at 112 ff that even if the sole object test does exist, it was not met in casu, holding at 147 that the ability to obtain disclosure from the English Defendants provided a real reason for bringing these proceedings against them.

Fancourt J had also added obiter that had he accepted jurisdiction against the Switzerland-based defendants on the basis of the anchor mechanism, he would have granted a stay in those proceedings, applying the lis alibi pendens rule of Lugano reflexively, despite the absence of an Article 34 mechanism in Lugano. The Court of Appeal clearly had to discuss this given that it did accept jurisdiction against the Switserland-based defendants, and held that the High Court was right in deciding in principle for reflexive application, at 178: ‘This approach does not subvert the Convention but, on the contrary, is in line with its purposes, to achieve certainty in relation to jurisdiction and to avoid the risk of inconsistent judgments.’

That is a finding which stretches the mutual trust principle far beyond Brussels /Lugano parties and in my view is far from clear.

However, having accepted lis alibi pendens reflexively in principle, the Court of Appeal nevertheless held it should not do so in casu, at 200 as I also discuss below: ‘the fact that consolidation was not possible was an important factor militating against the grant of a stay, when it came to the exercise of discretion as to whether to do so’.

Finally, stay against the English defendants was granted by the High Court on the basis of A34 BIa, for reasons discussed in my earlier post. On this too, the Court of Appeal disagreed.

Firstly, on the issue of ‘related’ actions: At 183: ‘The Bank argues that the actions are not “related” in the sense that it is expedient to hear and determine them together, because consolidation of the Bank’s claim with Mr Kolomoisky’s claim in the defamation proceedings would not be possible. It is submitted that unless the two actions can be consolidated and actually heard together, it is not “expedient” to hear and determine them together. In other words, the Bank submits that expediency in this context means practicability.’ The Court of Appeal disagreed: At 191: ‘The word “expedient” is more akin to “desirable”, as Rix J put it, that the actions “should” be heard together, than to “practicable” or “possible”, that the actions “can” be heard together. We also consider that there is force in Ms Tolaney’s point that, if what had been intended was that actions would only be “related” if they could be consolidated in one jurisdiction, then the Convention would have made express reference to the requirement of consolidation, as was the case in article 30(2) of the Recast Brussels Regulation.’

Further, on the finding of ‘sound administration of justice’: at 211: ‘the unavailability in the Ukrainian court of consolidation of the Bank’s current claim with Mr Kolomoisky’s defamation claim remains a compelling reason for refusing to grant a stay. In particular, the fact that the Bank’s claim would have to be brought before the Ukrainian commercial court rather than before the Pechersky District Court in which the defamation proceedings are being heard means that if a stay were granted, the risk of inconsistent findings in these different courts would remain. Furthermore, we accept Lord Pannick’s overall submission that, standing back in this case, it would be entirely inappropriate to stay an English fraud claim in favour of Ukrainian defamation claims, in circumstances where the fraud claim involves what the judge found was fraud and money laundering on an “epic scale” ‘

Finally, at 213, ‘that the English claim against Mr Kolomoisky and Mr Bogolyubov and the English Defendants should be allowed to proceed, it inevitably follows that the BVI Defendants are necessary or proper parties to that claim and that the judge was wrong to conclude that the proceedings against the BVI Defendants should be set aside or stayed.’

One or two issues in this appeal deserve to go up to the CJEU. I have further analysis in a forthcoming paper on A34.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law – 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.14.5

 

 

Wigmans v AMP. Abuse of process and multiplicity of proceedings.

[2019] NSWCA 243 Wigmans v AMP concerns the challenging application of fraus /abuse / vexatious and oppressive proceedings principles to multiplicity of proceedings. Fraus or abuse is not easily applied in civil procedure let alone conflict of laws context. See e.g. my critique of Pablo Star but equally other postings; search tag ‘abuse’ or ‘fraus’ should help locate them. Neither is the common law Aldi rule requiring claimants to bring grouped cases together easy to consider.

Following testimony given by executives of AMP in the (Australian) Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry, five class actions were commenced within a short time of each other on behalf of shareholders in AMP who had made investments during periods of time in which it was said that AMP ought to have disclosed certain information to the market. Four of the five class actions were commenced in the Federal Court but were transferred to the Supreme Court. Two of the sets of proceedings then consolidated so that five became four. Each of the respective plaintiffs of the remaining four pending proceedings brought applications to stay each of the other sets of proceedings. AMP, whilst not filing a stay application, supported an outcome in which it would face only one set of proceedings.

Unclear principles on the issue have led to considerations of ‘beauty parades’ (which legal team might best lead the class action) as well as third party funding implications.

The primary judge ordered, pursuant to ss 67 and 183 of the Civil Procedure Act 2005 (NSW) and the inherent power of the Court, that the representative proceedings commenced by 3 of the 4 be permanently stayed. Each of these 3 fell within the definition of group member in the 4th, the ‘Komlotex’ proceedings. Ms Wigmans, one of the 3, made an application for leave to appeal that decision.

The issue in respect of which leave to appeal was granted (but appeal eventually refused) related to the principles applicable to applications to stay and counter-stay multiple open representative action proceedings.

The case therefore does not strictly relate to conflict of laws, rather to civil procedure and case management. However multiplicity of proceedings is clearly an issue viz conflicts, too (think lis alibi pendens; forum non etc.) hence I thought it worthwhile to flag the case; in which Bell P quotes conflicts handbooks; and in which 85 he expressly considers forum non and Cape v Lubbe. The House of Lords in that case had refused to stay proceedings which had been commenced in England where it was said that South Africa was the natural or more appropriate forum, in circumstances where it was held that the proceedings could only be handled efficiently and expeditiously on a group basis in England where appropriate funding was available. The lack of means available in South Africa to prosecute the claims required the application for a stay of proceedings to be refused.

An interesting case in which conflict of laws principles inspired domestic civil procedure rules, and where relevant considerations have an impact on e.g. the Article 33-34 Brussels Ia discussions.

Geert.

 

 

Elena Tsareva et al v Dimitri Ananyev et al. Cypriot passports, forum shopping and anchor defendants in England.

Parties’ names alone in Elena Tsareva et al v Dimitri Ananyev et al [2019] EWHC 2414 (Comm) clearly indicate the attraction of England in international forum shopping. As Baker J notes at 5:

‘I infer that the choice of this jurisdiction as a venue for the claimants’ claims has been led by the lawyers (Russian and English) who have engaged themselves in assisting the claimants as disappointed investors. Indeed, I think it unlikely it would have occurred to the claimants, unless so led, to try to sue here. The most natural targets for any claim are PSB and (possibly) the first defendant, so the most natural venues for any litigation (all things being equal) are Russia and (perhaps) Cyprus. But none of that means that this court does not have jurisdiction.’

One, as always, wonders where these cases might go should following Brexit (if any) the English courts will regain full authority to apply forum non conveniens.

The Ananyevs are Russian nationals who were domiciled and resident in Russia in 2017. One of them, when the Claims were commenced in 2018, was domiciled and resident in Cyprus, where he has had a dual citizenship since June 2017. They are, or at all events they were in 2017, well-known in Russia as successful and very wealthy businessmen. They were the ultimate beneficial owners together of a number of businesses and assets, including Promsvyaz Bank – PSB, of whom claimants were clients. The core allegation underlying the claimants’ claims is that they were induced to invest in Notes by mis-selling on the part of PSB employees to the effect that the Notes were personally guaranteed by the Ananyevs and/or that they were safe investments. It is alleged that PSB was in a parlous financial condition rendering it highly likely the Notes would default, as in due course they did; and that the misselling was directed by the Ananyevs in a conspiracy to enrich themselves and/or their businesses at the expense of the claimants.

Some of the corporate defendants are English companies, although ‘tax-resident’ in Ireland in 2017, in Cyprus from some time later (and still now). The English companies cannot and do not challenge jurisdiction (but the claims against them are struck out nevertheless given the absence of foundation to the claims). Promsvyaz is a Dutch company, the Issuer is a Cayman Islands company, and Peters International is a Dutch Antilles company. Other defendants are Cypriot companies.

There are a great many claimants with varying suggested gateways for jurisdiction, and one best read the judgment to get the full picture. In short, however, the gateways relevant to the Brussels regime (this blogpost does not focus on the English rules) are Article 4, 7(2), and 8(1). At 29, Baker J emphasises that for the anchor claim under Article 8(1), unlike in the English CPR rules, there cannot be a merits claim. But there can be abuse, per CJEU Reisch Montage, and CDC, as recently also applied in Privatbank v Kolomoisky. Unlike in the latter case, Article 34 is not engaged here. Baker J concludes after considerate yet concise analysis that there is no good arguable case against the English defendants, the claim against them is hopeless, and therefore the anchor mechanism is abused. As always in these cases, walking the rope between merits analysis and ‘good arguable case’ is not straightforward yet the judgment shows again how the English courts deploy creativity to ensure the anchor mechanism of Article 8(1) is not abused.

At 51, the tort gateway of Article 7(2) against the non-English EU defendants is dismissed with reference to Lober. Claimants suffered loss by parting with their funds deposited with PSB in Russia (or, perhaps, by contracting with PSB in Russia to do so); there is no indication of links to England, as required by Lober (applying Universal Music).

The above only narrates the essence of the Brussels Ia analysis. There is quite a bit more in the judgment of relevance to the CPR rules.

Geert.

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

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 [2019] 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 [2017] 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 [2016] 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).

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.9, Heading 2.2.11.1, Heading 2.2.11.2 .

 

 

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.

Geert.

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