Happy days!: ‘closest and most real connection’ for identifying lex contractus. Ontario CA in Lilydale v Meyn.

Lilydale v Meyn at the Ontario Court of Appeal (held April 2015 but only reaching me now – thank you to Michael Shafler and colleagues for flagging) is a useful reminder of the common law approach to determining lex contractus in the absence of choice of law. (Here of course an inter-State conflicts issue between Ontario and Alberta). Laskin JA refers in support to english precedent, summarised in quoted passage of Cheshire’s Private International Law:

The court must take into account, for instance, the following matters: the domicil and even the residence of the parties; the national character of a corporation and the place where its principal place of business is situated; the place where the contract is made and the place where it is to be performed; the style in which the contract is drafted, as, for instance, whether the language is appropriate to one system of law, but inappropriate to another; the fact that a certain stipulation is valid under one law but void under another … the economic connexion of the contract with some other transaction … the nature of the subject matter or its situs; the head office of an insurance company, whose activities range over many countries; and, in short, any other fact which serves to localize the contract.

The motion judge’s findings on the relevant criteria were held to be reasonable, as was her overall conclusion that the closest and most real connection to the contract was Ontario.

The case is an interesting reminder of what in the Rome I Regulation is now the final resort, should none of the relevant presumptions in Article 4 apply.

An interesting point in the judgment is the main reason why parties prefer one law over the other: at 3: ‘The issue is important because Alberta and Ontario have different ultimate limitation periods. Even taking into account discoverability, Alberta’s ultimate limitation period is 10 years; Ontario’s is 15 years. The parties agreed that Lilydale’s cause of action arose no later than August 31, 1994. Therefore, as Lilydale did not sue until January 2006, if Alberta law applied, its action was statute-barred; if Ontario law applied, it was not.’

Aren’t statutes of limitation under Canadian conflict of laws, covered by lex fori, as procedural issues, and not, as is seemingly accepted here, lex causae?

Geert.

 

 

Just prove it! CJEU on lex causae and detrimental acts (pauliana) in Nike.

Postscript for an example of where Article 4(2)m, lex fori concursus for rules relating to the voidness, voidability or unenforceability of legal acts detrimental to all the creditors, applies without correction, see C-594/14 Kornhaas.

In my posting on Lutz I flagged the increasing relevance of Article 13 of the Insolvency Regulation. This Article neutralises the lex concursus in favour of the lex causae governing the act between a person (often a company) benefiting from an act detrimental to all the creditors, and the insolvent company. Classic example is a payment made by the insolvent company to one particular creditor. Evidently this is detrimental to the other creditors, who are confronted with reduced means against which they can exercise their rights. Article 13 reads

Detrimental acts. Article 4(2)(m) shall not apply where the person who benefited from an act detrimental to all the creditors provides proof that: – the said act is subject to the law of a Member State other than that of the State of the opening of proceedings, and – that law does not allow any means of challenging that act in the relevant case.

In the case at issue, C-310/14, Nike (incorporated in The Netherlands) had a franchise agreement with Sportland Oy, a Finnish company. This agreement is governed by Dutch law (through choice of law). Sportland paid for a number of Nike deliveries. Payments went ahead a few months before and after the opening of the insolvency proceedings. Sportland’s liquidator attempts to have the payments annulled, and to have Nike reimburse.

Under Finnish law, para 10 of the Law on recovery of assets provides that the payment of a debt within three months of the prescribed date may be challenged if it is paid with an unusual means of payment, is paid prematurely, or in an amount which, in view of the amount of the debtor’s estate, may be regarded as significant. Under Netherlands law, according to Article 47 of the Law on insolvency (Faillissementswet), the payment of an outstanding debt may be challenged only if it is proven that when the recipient received the payment he was aware that the application for insolvency proceedings had already been lodged or that the payment was agreed between the creditor and the debtor in order to give priority to that creditor to the detriment of the other creditors.

Nike first of all argued, unsuccessfully in the Finnish courts, that the payment was not ‘unusual’. The Finnish courts essentially held that under relevant Finnish law, the payment was unusual among others because the amount paid was quite high in relation to the overall assets of the company. Nike argues in subsidiary order that Dutch law, the lex causae of the franchise agreement, should be applied. Attention then focussed (and the CJEU held on) the burden of proof under Article 13, as well as the exact meaning of ‘that law does not allow any means of challenging that act in the relevant case.

Firstly, the Finnish version of the Regulation seemingly does not include wording identical or similar to ‘in the relevant case‘ (Article 13 in fine). Insisting on a restrictive interpretation of Article 13, which it had also held in Lutz, the CJEU held that all the circumstances of the cases need to be taken into account. The person profiting from the action cannot solely rely ‘in a purely abstract manner, on the unchallengeable character of the act at issue on the basis of a provision of the lex causae‘ (at 21).

Related to this issue the referring court had actually quoted the Virgos Schmit report, which reads in relevant part (at 137) ‘By “any means” it is understood that the act must not be capable of being challenged using either rules on insolvency or general rules of the national law applicable to the act’. This interpretation evidently reduces the comfort zone for the party who benefitted from the act. It widens the search area, so to speak. It was suggested, for instance, that Dutch law in general includes a prohibition of abuse of rights, which is wider than the limited circumstances of the Faillissementswet, referred to above.

The CJEU surprisingly does not quote the report however it does come to a similar conclusion: at 36: the expression ‘does not allow any means of challenging that act …’ applies, in addition to the insolvency rules of the lex causae, to the general provisions and principles of that law, taken as a whole.’

Attention then shifted to the burden of proof: which party is required to plead that the circumstances for application of a provision of the lex causae leading to voidness, voidability or unenforceability of the act, do not exist? The CJEU held on the basis of Article 13’s wording and overall objectives that it is for the defendant in an action relating to the voidness, voidability or unenforceability of an act to provide proof, on the basis of the lex causae, that the act cannot be challenged. Tthe defendant has to prove both the facts from which the conclusion can be drawn that the act is unchallengeable and the absence of any evidence that would militate against that conclusion (at 25).

However, (at 27) ‘although Article 13 of the regulation expressly governs where the burden of proof lies, it does not contain any provisions on more specific procedural aspects. For instance, that article does not set out, inter alia, the ways in which evidence is to be elicited, what evidence is to be admissible before the appropriate national court, or the principles governing that court’s assessment of the probative value of the evidence adduced before it.

‘(T)he issue of determining the criteria for ascertaining whether the applicant has in fact proven that the act can be challenged falls within the procedural autonomy of the relevant Member State, regard being had to the principles of effectiveness and equivalence.’ (at 44)

The Court therefore once again bumps into the limits of autonomous interpretation. How ad hoc, concrete (as opposed to ‘in the abstract’: see the CJEU’s words, above) the defendant has to be in providing proof (and foreign expert testimony with it), may differ greatly in the various Member States. Watch this space for more judicial review of Article 13.

Geert.

Postscript 7 December 2015: Bob Wessels has annotated the case here.

Wall v Mutuelle De Poitiers Assurances: what is ‘procedure’ under Rome II?

Update 4 June 2020 see 1 Chancery Lane’s Richard Collier and Mike Hagan’s paper here, focusing on determination of quantum by foreign (legal) experts.

Update 5 April 2019 see also application in [2019] EWHC 801 (QB) Joshua Folkes v Generali Assurances.

As readers will be aware, the Rome II Regulation on the law applicable to non-contractual obligations, harmonises Member States’ governing law rules on non-contractual obligations (not entirely accurately known in short as ‘tort’). Article 15 clarifies that the scope of the law applicable is very wide:

Article 15
Scope of the law applicable
The law applicable to non-contractual obligations under this Regulation shall govern in particular:
(a) the basis and extent of liability, including the determination of persons who may be held liable for acts performed by them;
(b) the grounds for exemption from liability, any limitation of liability and any division of liability;
(c) the existence, the nature and the assessment of damage or the remedy claimed;
(d) within the limits of powers conferred on the court by its procedural law, the measures which a court may take to prevent or terminate injury or damage or to ensure the provision of compensation;
(e) the question whether a right to claim damages or a remedy may be transferred, including by inheritance;
(f) persons entitled to compensation for damage sustained personally;
(g) liability for the acts of another person;
(h) the manner in which an obligation may be extinguished and rules of prescription and limitation, including rules relating to the commencement, interruption and suspension of a period of prescription or limitation.

The provision is important, because jurisdictions may differ quite substantially as to which parts of the dispute they consider to relate to the substantive matter of ‘tort’, as opposed to procedural law. Procedural matters are governed by the lex fori and continue to be so under the Rome II Regulation: Article 1(3) provides specifically

‘This Regulation shall not apply to evidence and procedure, without prejudice to Articles 21 and 22.’

Article 15 clearly has a limiting effect on Article 1(3), given that it qualifies a number of issues as being substantive law, even though national law may have considered these to be procedural.

Despite the clarification in the Regulation, combined with the EC proposal and with the recitals, difficulties do of course remain. However in particular ‘assessment of damage’ under Article 15(c) has a very wide scope indeed. For instance the scope of the applicable law arguably includes the determination of whether damages need to be determined ‘net’, taking into account subsequent history which impacts upon the dependency of the party that is being compensated, or rather ‘gross’, at the moment of death: see Cox v Ergo Versicherung, ([2011] EWHC 2806 (QB)] and [2012] EWCA Civ 1001].

In Wall v Mutuelle De Poitiers Assurances, following a severe road accident, plaintiff sued the insurance company in the UK  –  jurisdictional issues were not under discussion. The Court of Appeal had to review the extent to which French law, the lex causae, had to be applied by the English Courts: utterly and totally, with all its practical implications? Or with due regard for the distinction which the Regulation continues to make between procedure and substance? Tugendhat J unsurprisingly opted for the latter – much more eloquently than this posting can do justice: an English court must not strive to reach the same result as a French court would, let alone insist that evidence given to the English court be in the form of a French-style expert report (no more indeed than a French court would in the reverse hypothesis). As Tugendhat J summarises at 16, in fine: “Rules” as to the assessment of damages are therefore to be “imported”; if there is a rule as to what kind of loss is recoverable, that rule is to be imported. But mere methods of proving recoverable loss are not to be imported.

With reference to Dworkin no less on soft law, the Court did hold that applicable law should be understood to include “judicial conventions and practices”, for example “particular tariffs, guidelines or formulae” used by judges in the calculation of damages under the applicable law: in France, these are the so-called Dintilhac Headings.

Dworkin at the Court of Appeal: that was bound to catch my interest.

Geert.

 

 

 

Sulamerica applied in Arsanovia – Expressly excluding parts of a national law may lead to that law being lex arbitri.

In Arsanovia, the High Court applied the Sulamerica test for identifying the lex arbitri (see here for the judgment in Sulamerica and for the notion ‘lex arbitri’). Hodges, Kaplan and Godwin excellently review the various other elements of the case here. For current blog the finding on lex arbitri is the most relevant. In particular, Smith J found of high relevance the fact that parties had excluded part of the Indian arbitration Act: at 20:

There is another consideration that to my mind is relevant in this case: that the arbitration agreement included a specific agreement not to seek interim relief under the Indian Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 (“IACA”), including section 9 of that Act, and that the provisions of Part 1 of IACA were expressly excluded.(…) as I see it (…), where parties have expressly excluded specific statutory provisions of a law, the natural inference is that they understood and intended that otherwise that law would apply. Therefore to my mind the reference to IACA in the arbitration agreement supports the claimants’ contention that the parties evinced an intention that the arbitration agreement should be governed by Indian law (except in so far as they agreed otherwise).

It is not uncommon in identifying applicable law (in this case, for the arbitration agreement) to employ selective cancellation of a national aw as evidence of intention for that law to be applicable for the remainder. Whether that intention is properly present in the agreement, in the absence of a specific choice of law clause, inevitably is subject to the discretion of the bench. In the case at issue, the High Court was not swayed by the consideration that the partial exclusion of IACA was intended simply to obstruct Indian case-law on the wide jurisdictional reach of IACA in temporary relief, even for arbitration proceedings taking place outside of India.

The lesson is always the same: choose carefully, and explicitly.

Geert.

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