Posts Tagged Governing law

Exxon Mobil: On the law applicable to privileged communications.

Comparative conflict of laws is often a useful source for exam (essay) questions. I used People of State of New York v. PriceWaterhouseCoopers, LLP, No. 3685N (N.Y. App. Div. May 23, 2017) to ask my students to surmise how an EU-base court would judge the issue raised.

Keith Goldberg over at LAw360 has the following great summary:

A New York appellate court [.. ] upheld a decision to force ExxonMobil’s outside auditor PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP to comply with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s demand for documents in his probe of whether the oil giant lied to investors about the climate change risks to its business.
The Appellate Division backed state Supreme Court Judge Barry Ostrager’s Nov. 26 order that PwC turn over documents related to its audit of Exxon subpoenaed by Schneiderman, saying the judge correctly held that New York law, not the law of Texas, where Exxon is headquartered, applies to questions of evidentiary privilege and that the Empire State doesn’t recognize accountant-client privilege.

Mr Ostrager’s decision is here – it has more choice of law considerations than the appelate court’s order. Eversheds have excellent analysis here of the overall issue of considering applicable law for privilege under the first and second restatement of the law. In the case at issue, ExxonMobil as well as the documents disclosure of which is sought (such as projected carbon costs and their application to Exxon’s capital allocation decisions, as well as documents provided to Exxon by PwC concerning the auditor’s role in compiling Exxon’s submissions about greenhouse gas emissions for the Carbon Disclosure Project, a nonprofit that collects information on greenhouse gas emissions) are based at Texas. But the trial is underway in New York.

Now, to the essay Q: how would an EU-based court hold on the issue? (For the purpose of last week’s exam I had a Belgian court rule on the issue, with the oil company based at Belgium, and the accountant at England, with the agreement between company and accountants subject to English law.

I am marking these exams later this week and hope to read some or all of the following: reference to overall principle that procedure is subject to lex fori; that statement being of little use in a system (like the EU) that thrives on predictability: for what is procedure to one, is substantive law to another; arguments existing both pro this being procedure (closely tied up with evidence, clear links with public policy) as well as substantive (privilege despite its public nature also protecting private, including commercial interest; parties wishing to manage the issue of sensitive information and forum); need for autonomous interpretation and tendency within the EU to define the ‘scope of the law applicable’ (eg both in Rome I and II);  no trace in said Regulations of privilege being included in the scope of law applicable.

As always, I am hoping for students to surprise me. Undoubtedly they will.

Geert.

 

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Banco Santander Totta: the High Court upholds snowball interest rate swaps under English law. The ‘purely domestic contracts’ provision of Article 3(3) Rome I is not engaged.

A longer title than readers are used to from this blog. However judgment itself is also an unusually long 163 pages. In Banco Santander Totta, the High Court was asked whether snowball interest rates swaps in loan agreements between a Portuguese Bank and four Portuguese public transport companies, should be declared invalid under Portuguese ‘mandatory’ law, applicable by use of the corrective mechanism of Article 3(3) Rome I.

The Transport Companies do not assert that BST wrongly advised them to enter into the swaps, or misrepresented the swaps to them. Rather,  defences raised by the Transport Companies are that:

(1) under Portuguese law, each company lacked capacity to enter the swaps which are therefore void; this is on the basis (among other reasons) of an assertion that the swaps were speculative transactions; this defence applies regardless of the law applicable to the swaps; it is common ground that, if correct, it is a complete answer to the claim;

(2) although English law governs the Master Agreements, this is subject to Art. 3(3) of the Rome Convention; this provides that where all the elements relevant to the situation at the time of the choice of law are connected with one country only, the choice does not prejudice the application of rules of the law of that country which cannot be derogated from by contract (“mandatory rules”). Portuguese mandatory rules apply to the swaps, giving rise to two defences: a) under rules dealing with gaming and betting and ordre public, the swaps are void for being unlawful “games of chance”, alternatively speculations; b) seven of the nine swaps are liable to be terminated under rules dealing with an “abnormal change of circumstances” (which termination takes effect as though the swaps were void); this is on the basis that since 2009 (following the financial crisis), the reference interest rates relating to the swaps (EURIBOR and LIBOR) have been close to zero (and remain so at the time of this judgment);

(3) in presenting the swaps to the Transport Companies, the bank acted in breach of its duties under provisions of the Portuguese Securities Code which implement relevant European Union legislation; these apply to the bank as a financial intermediary and relate to the protection of the legitimate interests of the Transport Companies as clients, and to conflicts of interest; the breach is said to entitle the Transport Companies to damages thereby extinguishing their liabilities under the swaps.

Blair J reviews precedent (European (limited, mostly related to the preparatory works), English and Portuguese (likewise limited) and decides against the engagement of Article 3(3). I will not regurgitate all of the analysis: readers are best referred to the judgment, in particular p.65 onwards, and the decision at 411, where Blair J concludes

because of the right to assign to a bank outside Portugal, the use of standard international documentation, the practical necessity for the relationship with a bank outside Portugal, the international nature of the swaps market in which the contracts were concluded, and the fact that back-toback (sic) contracts were concluded with a bank outside Portugal in circumstances in which such hedging arrangements are routine, the court’s conclusion is that Art. 3(3) of the Rome Convention is not engaged because all the elements relevant to the situation at the time of the choice were not connected with Portugal only. In short, these were not purely domestic contracts. Any other conclusion, the court believes, would undermine legal certainty.  

The latter element is quite important. Referring in particular to Briggs (at 374), the Court holds that the uncertainty of the rule of Article 3(3) should lead to its narrow interpretation. I agree. With party autonomy the core consideration of the Regulation, standard recourse to Article 3(3) [or 3(4) for that matter) under the pretext for instance of a general campaign against fraus legis is most definitely not warranted.

Permission was granted to appeal the issues on the Rome Convention (thank you to Ali Malek QC for pointing that out).

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.8, Heading 3.2.8.1

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Martrade Shipping: choice of law means that law can decide the limits to which it wishes to be applied. Including to promote forum shopping.

In Martrade Shipping v United Enterprises Corporation, the High Court considered the appeal against an arbitration award in relation to the applicability of the Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Act 1998 to charterparties providing for English law and London arbitration.

The vessel was owned by the Defendant, a Marshall Islands company. The vessel was registered in Panama and managed by a Liberian company registered in Greece. The vessel was chartered by the Owners to the Claimant charterers for a time charter trip via the Mediterranean/Black Sea under a charterparty on an amended NYPE form dated 2 July 2005. The Charterers are a German company. The vessel was to be placed at the disposal of the Charterers on passing Aden, and was to be redelivered at one safe port or passing Muscat outbound/Singapore range in Charterers’ option. In the event the vessel loaded cargoes of steel products at Tuapse (Russia), Odessa (Ukraine) and Constanza (Romania) and discharged them at Jebel Ali (UAE), Karachi (Pakistan) and Mumbai (India). Hire was payable in US$ to a bank account in Greece. The broker named in the charterparty as entitled to commission was Optima Shipbrokers Ltd who arre Greek. The charterparty recorded that it was made and concluded in Antwerp.

Consequently, contact with England other than the governing law and arbitration clause was non-existent.

A number of disputes between the parties were referred to arbitration, including a claim by the Owners for unpaid hire, in respect of which the Charterers claimed to be entitled to deduct sums for alleged off-hire, bunkers used during off-hire, and a bunker price differential claim. By the Award the tribunal held that Owners were entitled to an award in respect of hire in the sum of US$ 178,342.73. The tribunal further held that the Owners were entitled to interest on that sum calculated at the rate of 12.75% per annum from 23 September 2005 until the date of payment under the 1998 Act.

The appeal is against the award of interest under the 1998 Act. The Charterers contended before the tribunal, and contend on the appeal, that the 1998 Act has no application by reason of s. 12(1) which provides:

“This Act does not have effect in relation to a contract governed by a law of a part of the United Kingdom by choice of the parties if –(a) there is no significant connection between the contract and that part of the United Kingdom; and (b) but for that choice, the applicable law would be a foreign law.’

Section 12 of the Act therefore provides that where parties to a contract with an international dimension have chosen English law to govern the contract, the choice of English law is not of itself sufficient to attract the application of the Act. Section 12 mandates the application of the penal interest provisions only if one or both of two further requirements are fulfilled. There must be a significant connection between the contract and England (s. 12(1)(a)); or the contract must be one which would be governed by English law apart from the choice of law (s. 12(1)(b)). Either is sufficient. Popplewell J suggests this provision has two objectives:

– the Act reflects domestic policy considerations which are not necessarily apposite to contracts with an international dimension. What is required by the significant connecting factor(s) is something which justifies the extension of a deterrent penal provision rooted in domestic policy to an international transaction. And

– subjecting parties to a penal rate of interest on debts might be a discouragement to those who would otherwise choose English law to govern contracts arising in the course of international trade, and accordingly does not make such consequences automatic.

 

The s.12(1)(a) criterion of “significant connection” must connect the substantive transaction itself to England. Whether they provide a significant connection, singly or cumulatively, will be a question of fact and degree in each case, but they must be of a kind and a significance which makes them capable of justifying the application of a domestic policy of imposing penal rates of interest on a party to an international commercial contract. They must provide a real connection between the contract and the effect of prompt payment of debts on the economic life of the United Kingdom. (at 17).

‘Such factors may include the following:

(1) Where the place of performance of obligations under the contract is in England. This will especially be so where the relevant debt falls to be paid in England. But it may also be so where other obligations fall to be performed in England or other rights exercised in England. If some obligations might give rise to debts payable in England, the policy considerations underlying the Act are applicable to those debts; and if some debts under the contract are to carry interest at a penal rate, it might be regarded as fair and equitable that all debts arising in favour of either party under the contract should do so.

(2) Where the nationality of the parties or one of them is English. If it is contemplated that debts may be payable by an English national under the contract, the policy reasons for imposing penal rates of interest may be engaged; and if only one party is English, fairness may again decree that the other party should be on an equal footing in relation to interest whether he is the payer or the payee.

(3) Where the parties are carrying on some relevant part of their business in England. It may be thought that persons or companies who carry on business in England should be encouraged to pay their debts on time and not use delayed payment as a business tool even in relation to transactions which fall to be performed elsewhere. Moreover a supplier carrying on business in England may fall within the category identified in s.6(2)(a) of those whose financial position makes them particularly vulnerable to late payment of their debts, although these are not the only commercial suppliers for whose benefit the Act is intended to apply. The policy of the Act may be engaged in the protection of suppliers carrying on business in England, whether financially vulnerable or not, even where the particular debts in question fall to be paid by a foreign national abroad.

(4) Where the economic consequences of a delay in payment of debts may be felt in the United Kingdom. This may engage consideration of related contracts, related parties, insurance arrangements or the tax consequences of transactions.’ (at 20).

 

By contrast, a mere London arbitration or English jurisdiction clause cannot be a relevant connecting factor for the purposes of s.12(1)(a).

Popplewell J therefore expressly links the non-applicability of relevant domestic English law (where such as here that law itself suggests the need for there to be a connection between the case, and England) to the need to maintain the attraction of England as a seat of international commercial arbitration  or indeed litigation. Exactly the kind of attitude in which competing courts fall short.

Geert.

 

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It’s not the grammar, stupid! The High Court in Anchorage on exclusive (or not) choice of court, anti-suit injunctions, Rome, Brussels and much more

In Anchorage (BNP Paribas v Anchorage Capital Europe et al). a bank and a hedge fund are at odds as to whether a handful of instant message communications resulted in a binding contract or contracts and if so, between which parties and on what terms. The issue for decision at the High Court was whether the disputes should be determined in London (home to the London Branch of BNP Paribas and allegedly identified as the exclusive – or not – court of choice in the alleged contracts), New York (home to the hedge fund which however also has a separate LLP domiciled in London) or possibly Luxembourg (home to two funds within Anchorage Group).

For review of the facts reference is best made to the text of the judgment, for there are many framework agreements etc at stake. The High Court’s review of the case though is most interesting for highlighting the limits to what Article 23 of the Brussels I Regulation harmonises. The Article aims to ensure a non-formalistic deference to parties’ agreement to have their disputes adjudicated in a particular court. As Males J notes (and the ECJ acknowledges), one should not be overly formalistic in applying Article 23.

Article 23 though does not harmonise the underlying contractual (or not) issues: with whom were contracts made, especially in an agent /principal context; what law applies to the (alleged) choice of court agreement (an issue more or less resolved in the new Brussels I Regulation). Males J applies English law to the issue of validity of the clause, on the basis it would seem of lex contractus (which arguably will no longer be possible come January 2015, as a result of the new Brussels I Regulation): either because of the express determination of such by the parties, or because the lex contractus of the agreement of which it forms part is English law by virtue of the Rome I Regulation (contract for the sale of goods; I am not sure though whether the underlying contract truly is a sale of a good). Arguments for the alternative (in particular, application of New York law to the choice of court agreement) are dismissed on the basis that they represent the kind of semantic approach to such clauses which English law has left firmly behind. Surely a poster-argument indeed for the use of English law in international commerce and an approach which is to be commended.

Even were the validity of the clause not to be upheld, the High Court outlines other jurisdictional grounds: Article 5(1) of the Jurisdiction Regulation on the basis of the place of performance of the obligation in question; Article 5(5) on the basis of a contractual dispute closely connected to the operation of a branch; Article 6(1) on the basis of the cases being closely connected. (Use of Anchorage London as an anchor defendant (lousy pun intended I fear) against the investment funds).

Forum non conveniens (potentially applicable should none of the jurisdictional grounds be valid and given the possibility of New York proceedings) was dismissed; the anti-suit injunction was granted. Here, Males J reviews the rather grammatical arguments made vis-a-vis the choice of court agreement being used transitively or not: again, the Court takes a non-formalistic approach and (respectfully) dismisses the grammatical argument as being elusive.

This is the kind of case upon which one could build an entire conflicts course. If you happen to be preparing one over the holidays period: good luck and enjoy. To all readers past, current and future: Merry Christmas and /or applicable and appropriate season’s greetings. Geert.

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