Supreme Sites Services: Immunity of international organisations and ‘civil and commercial’. CJEU holds with emphasis on the provisional nature of the proceedings and the ordinary contractual nature of the goods supplied.

María Barral Martínez and I reviewed Saugmandsgaard Øe’s Opinion in C-186/19 Supreme Site Services v SHAPE here – see also references to earlier postings in that report. The Court held yesterday. The case involves both Article 1 Brussels Ia, on the issue of ‘civil and commercial’ and the impact on same of claimed immunity; and on the application of Article 24(5)’s exclusive jurisdictional rule for proceedings ‘concerned with the enforcement of judgments’.

The case concerns SHAPE’s appeal to a Dutch Court to lift the attachment aka ‘garnishment’ of a Belgian NATO /SHAPE escrow account by Supreme Services GmbH, a supplier of fuel to NATO troops in Afghanistan. In 2013, Supreme and Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum (JFCB), the Netherlands-based regional headquarters of NATO, set up an escrow bank account in Belgium with the goal of offsetting any contingent liabilities on both sides at the end of Basic Ordering Agreements (BOAs). Supreme Services in 2015 initiated proceedings against SHAPE and JFCB in the Netherlands arguing that the latter parties had not fulfilled their payment obligations towards Supreme. It also attached the account in Belgium.

Maria earlier discussed the oddity that the Dutch Court of Appeal in the meantime has already held on the merits of the case. Shape submitted at the CJEU that this, and the fact that the Belgian courts executed their Dutch counterpart’s lifting of the garnishee order following the Dutch-Belgian 1925 Bilateral Convention, meant the questions had become largely inadmissible. The CJEU disagrees: the case before it has been referred by the Supreme Court, and that court has exclusive power under national law to determine how much it can still interfere in the substance of the case, which is still very much ‘alive’ therefore.

A first issue under discussion was whether the garnishment order, which the Court per C‑261/90 Reichert and Kochler qualifies as ‘provisional, including protective measures’ under (now) Article 35 BIa, concerns ‘civil and commercial matters’. Among others Greece and Shape argue that the nature of the substantive proceedings determines this exercises, while the CJEU, following the view of ia the EC, BEN and NL, insists it is the nature of the rights which the provisional and protective measure seek to safeguard, that must rule that exercise – support is found in 143/78 de Cavel. This finding reinforces the particular nature of ‘provisional, including protective measures’ in the set-up of the Regulation.

On the impact of claimed immunity on the subsequent qualification as ‘civil and commercial’, reference is of course made to the CJEU’s May judgment in C-641/18 Rina which I reviewed here. The Court extends its reasoning there to here despite the fact that as it notes at 61, States’ immunity is automatic and based on par in parem non habet imperium, while for international organisations it is not automatic and has to be conferred by the treaties establishing those organisations. Per Rina the CJEU assesses whether the international organisation acted iure imperii, for which of course it has a range of predecent available. At 66 it emphasises that how the organisation uses the supplied goods (here: to support the military campaign in Afghanistan) does not impact on the nature of the relationship it has with the supplier. The Court ends by instructing the Dutch SC to carry out the necessary factual checks however it suggests that in casu neither the legal relationship between the parties to an action such as that in the main proceedings nor the basis and the detailed rules governing the bringing of that action (here: the ordinary Article 705(1) of the Dutch CPR) can be regarded as showing the exercise of public powers for the purposes of EU law.

On the issue of Article 24(5), the Court takes a restrictive view as it becomes all elements of Article 24: reference here is made to CJEU C-722/17  Reitbauer: only proceedings relating to recourse to force, constraint or distrain on movable or immovable property in order to ensure the effective implementation of judgments and authentic instruments fall within A24(5)’s scope.

I trust public international lawyers will have more to say about the PIL implications of the judgment.

Geert.

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

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.