Thank you Bob Wessels for alerting me to ADO Den Haag v United Vansen (of China). ADO Den Haag NV (the corporate vehicle of a Dutch Premier League club) domiciled at The Hague, sue United Vansen International Sports Co. Ltd, domiciled at Beijing, essentially for the latter to pay a deposit on the premium due for the shares it acquired in the club. Vansen did not appear.
First of all, were Vansen properly summoned in accordance with the Hague Service Abroad Convention (which both China and The Netherlands have ratified)? The court holds that it cannot yet decide that this has actually happened (relevant steps taken via the Dutch judicial authorities only recently having taken place) however it applies Article 15(3)’s provisions for extreme urgency: ‘Notwithstanding the provisions of the preceding paragraphs the judge may order, in case of urgency, any provisional or protective measures.‘
Next up: do the Dutch courts have jurisdiction? Given the defendant’s domicile outside of the EU and the non-applicability of any of Brussel I’s rules where domicile is irrelevant, the Court applied Dutch residual rules of private international law. These grant it jurisdiction essentially in respect of urgent proceedings of attachment.
Of more interest to this blog is the court’s consideration of applicable law, which the Court conducts with reference to Rome I. The share purchase agreement seemingly did not contain choice of law, either implicit or explicit: at 2.15, the court suffices with a mere observation of the absence of choice of law. None of the standard contracts of Article 4(1) Rome I applies [there is some discussion in scholarship whether share purchase is covered by Article 4(1)a’s ‘contract for the sale of goods’], hence the relevance of Article 4(2)’s ‘characteristic performance’ test. Here, the Court declared unequivocally that the characteristic performance is the transfer of the share premium. The habitual residence of the party required to carry out that performance is the relevant connecting factor. In casu therefore, Chinese law in principle is the applicable law.
This in fact is not as straightforward as it may sound. Other legal regimes may find perhaps entry in the shareholder registry following payment, to be the characteristic performance; or the initiation of negotiations to pay a share premium; etc.
However the Dutch court finally settles for Dutch law after all, employing Article 4(3)’s escape clause. It holds that all circumstances of the case indicate that Dutch law is more closely connected: at 2.15: the agreement originated in The Netherlands; the performance has to be carried in The Netherlands (transfer of the sums into a Dutch bank account), and the transfer of the premium will benefit a Dutch company. Although the judgment does not give much detail on the contract, its origins etc., it would seem that in finally opting for Dutch law, the court does make proper application of the rather strict conditions of Article 4(3).
A good illustration of Article 4’s waterfall /cascade.
(Handbook of) European private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.6.