Royal Carribean v Browitt. On agency, consumer consent and choice of court Down Under.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd v Browitt [2021] FCA 653 is a great addition to the comparative conflicts binder, particularly from the angle of ‘consent’ in business to consumer contracts. It also engages a classic tripartite relation between the consumer, signing a contract with a travel agent, whose GTCS in turn incorporate the GTCS of the carrier.

The case follows on from the December 2019 volcanic eruption at Whakaari.  (Mrs Browitt), for herself and as representative of the deceased estates of her late husband Paul and late daughter Krystal, and Stephanie (Ms Browitt), a daughter who survived the eruption with horrific injuries, are suing Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd (RCCL), a Liberian registered company headquartered and operating in Miami, Florida, in the courts at Miami. There are applicable law and procedural advantages (incl discovery and trial (both on culpability and level of damages) by jury).

RCL Cruises Ltd (RCL) and RCCL apply for anti-suit in the FCA arguing that the Browitts were passengers on the Ovation of the Seas pursuant to a contract of carriage between the Browitts and RCL as the disponent owner and operator of the vessel. They seek a declaration that it was a term of the contract, signed at Flight Centre in Victoria, Australia, that any disputes between the parties would be subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of New South Wales.

The list of issues to be determined is long but I repeat it here anyways for they highlight the complexity of issues following a routine purchase of a cruise:

(1)    Was Flight Centre the agent of Mrs Browitt, RCL or both?

(2)    Were the RCL AU terms, including the exclusive jurisdiction clause, incorporated into the contract of carriage by: (a)    reference in the Flight Centre terms and conditions signed by Mrs Browitt on 14 February 2019? (b)    the text of a Royal Caribbean brochure? (c)    links on the RCL AU website? (d)    links in emails? (e)    links in the electronic guestbook?

(3)    As to the construction of the RCL AU terms: (a)    is RCL entitled to invoke the exclusive jurisdiction clause to restrain the Florida proceedings? (b)    is RCCL entitled to rely on the exclusive jurisdiction clause? (c)    did the purchase of insurance exclude the operation of the terms (cl 1)? (The respondents later dropped reliance on the purchase of insurance as excluding the operation of the exclusive jurisdiction clause, so this issue fell away.) (d)    does the contract of carriage apply to shore excursions (cl 25)? If not, does the exclusive jurisdiction clause nonetheless operate to restrain the Florida proceedings? (e)    does the exclusive jurisdiction clause permit a proceeding to be brought in the Federal Court of Australia sitting in New South Wales, and if not, what consequence follows from the commencement of this proceeding (cl 1, cl 37/38)? (f)    does the exclusive jurisdiction clause cover the Florida proceeding?

(4)    Is RCCL entitled to relief on the basis of the RCL AU terms?

(5)    Is the Florida proceeding vexatious and oppressive such that RCL and RCCL are entitled to an anti-suit injunction?

The judge held that although the Browitts were bound by the RCL AU terms, the Florida proceeding is not in breach of the exclusive jurisdiction agreement in those terms because RCCL is not a party to the agreement and RCCL does not enjoy the benefit of it. Also, there is no basis for the alternative case that the Florida proceeding is in any event vexatious and oppressive such as to justify an order restraining Mrs Browitt and Ms Browitt from pursuing it.

Terms and conditions were available on relevant websites and brochures, shown to and browsed by Mrs Browitt but not for the purposes of terms and conditions. Rather, as one would expect, for details of the journey, vessels etc. Unlike a quote, the eventual invoice included as part of the document three pages of booking terms and conditions. Some of those were highlighted in the copy made available to Mrs Browitt  Mrs Browitt could have read the GTCS but there was no inidcation she had or had been specifically pointed to them. Nothing in either version of the invoice, i.e., that which was printed for and signed by Mrs Browitt and that which was emailed by the agency, identifies which of RCCL and RCL was offering the cruise or operating the vessel.

The judgment, which I would invite readers to consult, eventually boils down to limitations of ‘agency’, privity of contract, and clear determination of contractual clauses. It does not decide for the Browitts on the basis of a particular concern for the weaker party in a classic B2C transaction, rather on the need for parties clearly to think through their spaghetti bowl of overlapping arrangements and GTCs when hoping to rely on them in court.

Geert.

Trappit v American Express Europe. On choice of court in NDAs, privity, and lis pendens viz provisionally closed Spanish proceedings.

Trappit SA & Ors v American Express Europe LLC & Anor [2021] EWHC 1344 (Ch) confirms an application to strike out or stay proceedings claiming infringement of intellectual property rights in a computer programme called ARPO (relevant to fare re-booking), and breach of non-contractual obligations of confidence that are said to have arisen when ARPO was made available by claimants (Panamanian and Spanish special purpose vehicles of 2 software engineers) to first Defendant AmEx (a Delaware corporation with a registered branch in England), for assessment. AmEx after inspection declined to take a licence. AmEx reorganised and second defendant GBT UK (a joint AmEx and private equity venture) acquired AmEx Europe’s travel management services business in the UK. GBT use an alternative software which claimants argue is effectively an ARPO rip-off facilitated by AmEx’ consultation of ARPO.

The application is made by the Defendants, who argue Claimants are contractually bound to litigate the claims in Spain rather than England (an A25 Brussels Ia argument), or that in light of proceedings that have already been brought and provisionally determined against the Second Claimant in Spain, the E&W  should decline jurisdiction (A29 BIa) or strike out the English proceedings as an abuse of process.

First on the issue of choice of court and privity under A25 BIa. Relevant authority discussed includes CJEU CDC and UKSC AMT Futures v Marzillier. At 6 ff the genesis of choice of court and law provisions in the NDA is mapped (drafts had been sent to and fro). As Snowden J notes at 76,

it is the parties related to Trappit SA who are the claimants, who sought the NDA before making ARPO available to AmEx Europe, and who asked for a Spanish law and jurisdiction clause. However, it is those parties who now contend that the jurisdiction clause does not bind them and that they are free to issue proceedings in England for breach of confidence and copyright infringement arising (so they say) from the unauthorised copying of the source code to ARPO. In contrast, it was the parties related to AmEx Europe who would most naturally be the defendants to any claim under the NDA and who originally proposed an English law and jurisdiction clause. But it is those parties who are now contending that the jurisdiction clause in the NDA binds all parties and requires all of the claims made in the English Proceedings to be litigated in Spain.

The eventual clause reads “18. Governing law and jurisdiction. This Agreement (including any non-contractual obligations arising out of or in connection with the same) shall be governed in all respects by the laws of Spain without regard to conflict of law principles. Any dispute or controversy arising in connection with this Agreement shall be submitted before the courts of the city of Madrid, Spain.”

At 77 the judge notes that the scope and the circumstances in which persons other than Trappit SA and AmEx Europe might become a party to the NDA are matters to be determined in accordance with Spanish law as the governing law of the NDA. This underestimates the impact of A25 itself and discussion of in particular CJEU Refcomp rather than the tort /contract discussion in CDC would have been appropriate. Snowden J relies on expert reports on Spanish law with respect to (i) the proper approach to contractual construction, and (ii) the circumstances in which third parties can be bound by contracts.

Conclusion on these report is that a narrow construction of the clause must be rejected: [94] ‘all types of claims arising from misuse of the information which the NDA envisaged would be provided by one party to the other. This would include claims based upon unauthorised copying and infringement of intellectual property rights as well as claims for breach of confidence,..’ (At 97-98 a side-argument based on A8 Rome II is dismissed).

As for the privity element, Snowden J finds there was no contractual intention for other corporate entities also to be parties entitled to enforce the agreement and there was no indication that any other company was intended to acquire rights (or be bound) under the NDA. Spanish (statutory) law on assignment, subrogation and the like does not alter this.

Conclusion [138]: ‘the jurisdiction clause in the NDA applied to all the claims in the English Proceedings, but that it only binds AmEx Europe and Trappit SA as the original signatories to the NDA. The effect of Article 25 is that the English courts therefore have no jurisdiction over the claims brought by Trappit SA against AmEx Europe in the English Proceedings.’ Proceedings against GBT on that basis may continue on a A4 BIa basis (neither of the UK Defendants were named defendants to the Spanish Proceedings, hence an A29 ff lis alibi pendens argument against them has no object).

Obiter viz AmEx Europe yet of relevance to the UK defendants, on Article 29 lis pendens, of note is first of all that the Spanish proceedings are criminal ones, with an embedded civil liability claim. The English Proceedings were issued prior to the provisional dismissal of the Spanish Proceedings but after the delivery of the Expert Report in those proceedings whose findings were part incorporated into the Spanish judge’s provisional dismissal.

The first, threshold issue on A29 is whether the Spanish courts are still seised of the Spanish Proceedings seeing as there is a provisional dismissal in the Spanish criminal proceedings. Authority discussed was Easygroup v Easy Rent a Car [2019] EWCA Civ 477 and Hutchinson v Mapfre was also referred to. A29 only applies where there are concurrent proceedings before the courts of different member states at the time when the court second seised makes its determination [147]. Following the reasoning in Hutchinson, the judge decides  that the Spanish courts are no longer seized of the case: experts are agreed that the case has been closed and archived, and that it is unlikely in the extreme that any new evidence would come to light so as to justify reopening the case after more than five years of extensive investigatory proceedings in Spain [158].

A final set of arguments by the defendants, based on issue estoppel (the Expert Report had found that there had been no plagiarism or copying of the ARPO source code by the Defendants), Henderson v Henderson abuse, and vexatious ligation (all under an ‘abuse of process‘ heading) is dismissed.

Conclusion [195]: no jurisdiction to entertain any of the claims made in the English proceedings between Trappit SA and AmEx Europe by reason of the application of A25 BIa. The case against the UK defendants may continue.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, 2.296 ff (2.355 ff), 2.532 ff.

 

ING v Banco Santander. Deferring to extensive discussion of national law on the insolvency exception, and a bit too rich a pudding on privity of choice of court.

The critical point in Monday’s judgment in  ING Bank N.V. & Anor v Banco Santander S.A. [2020] EWHC 3561 (Comm), an application for lack of jurisdiction, is whether this is a case about claims which a syndicate of eight lenders, including ING, had against Marme Inversiones 2007 S.L.U (“Marme”) under a loan agreement and related swap agreements (together “the Marme Agreements”) which were entered into between the lenders and Marme in September 2008, or whether it is about the effect of the ongoing liquidation of Marme in Spain on those claims. The Defendant Applicant says the latter, the Claimant Respondents say the former.

Of note is that on 2 January 2020, Sorlinda, whose agreements are at issue, merged into Santander. As a consequence of the merger, Santander assumed all of Sorlinda’s rights and liabilities.

At 4 Cockerill J summarises ‘the field of battle’ (at 4) as follows:

Santander contends that the court should refuse to exercise jurisdiction or order a stay because:

i) The claim falls within the EU Insolvency Regulation on insolvency proceedings (the “Insolvency Regulation”) and is excluded from the scope of the recast Regulation (EU) No. 1215/2012 on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters (the “Brussels Regulation”) pursuant to Article 1(2)(b) of the Brussels Regulation.

ii) Even if the Claim does not fall within the exception under Article 1(2)(b), ING cannot rely upon Article 25 of the Brussels Regulation.

iii) As a matter of Spanish law, ING has not established that Sorlinda became liable to ING for Marme’s liabilities.

iv) There are in any event grounds for the Court to refuse to exercise its jurisdiction and/or to order a stay.

ING contends that:

i) The bankruptcy/winding up exclusion in Article 1(2)(b) of the Brussels Regulation does not apply. The Claim is between two solvent entities in relation to contractual payment obligations under the Marme Agreements, and has no effect on Marme or any of its other creditors. The Claim does not derive directly from Marme’s winding up nor is it closely connected with that winding up.

ii) The question of whether or not Santander is bound by the Marme Agreements is a question of English law having appropriate regard to the effect of the relevant “assumption” of Marme’s obligations by Sorlinda (now Santander) as a matter of Spanish law.

iii) There is (at least) a good arguable case that as a consequence of the “assumption” Santander has a direct liability to ING under the Marme Agreements which are subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the English courts.

iv) There are no grounds for the Court to refuse to exercise its jurisdiction and/or to order a stay. (GAVC underlining)

She holds that the jurisdictional challenge succeeds on the A25 BIa point, and also on the Insolvency Regulation point. The other grounds (assumption in Spanish Law and case management stay) would have failed.

Arguments in essence concern Brussels Ia’s insolvency exception. Per CJEU Gourdain, an action is related to bankruptcy only if it derives directly from the bankruptcy and is closely linked to proceedings for realising the assets or judicial supervision. Valach and F-Tex is CJEU authority also discussed.

In general, it is the closeness of the link between a court action and the insolvency proceedings that is decisive for the purposes of deciding whether the insolvency exclusion is applicable (CJEU German Graphics). In the absence of substantive EU insolvency law, the CJEU does not push an autonomous interpretation of the concept and defers largely to national insolvency law.

Whether the action is within the scope of BIa therefore requires examination of the national laws at issue, and that is done at length (featuring ia prof Virgós,  whose expert report clearly impressed Mrs Justice Cockerill).

Core of the decision on the insolvency exception, is at 197:

..the nature of the claim is one which is defined by something which took place in the liquidation, and the dispute effectively cannot be expressed without reference to the conduct of the liquidation. Although there is no challenge to the validity of the liquidator’s actions, the proceedings do necessarily require a consideration of the ambit of those powers and the ambit of actions done as part of those powers. The question of to what extent Sorlinda assumed the relevant liability can only be answered by looking at the deal which was struck in the context of the Liquidation Plan (governed by Spanish insolvency law) and the statutory insolvency framework.

The claim is not covered by BIa. English courts do not have jurisdiction over it.

Article 25 BIa is discussed first in fact, at 113 ff. However I would have thought (although Cockerill J suggest quite the reverse) that the A25 arguments must be obiter, with the insolvency exception findings logically coming first. This may be at issue when this judgment is appealed and /or referred to later.

On A25, ING must demonstrate a good arguable case either as to succession to choice of court, or as to specific consent. It was clear that the latter was not established hence discussion focused on novation /succession.  Authority discussed was of course Refcomp, Coreck Maritime, Tilly Russ etc.

This section of the judgment does not have the same clarity as the discussion on insolvency. Much reference is made to the relevance of either Spanish or English law on the issue of privity of choice of court, however this seems to be mostly done with reference to those laws being potential lex contractus (of the underlying contract). Even if the issue is not completely dealt with autonomously by EU law (which is arguable; and would have ended reference to any national laws), discussion of national law arguably should be to lex fori prorogati per the new rule in Brussels Ia (even a putative lex fori prorogati). At any rate, no succession or novation is established.

Something to clear out in my head over the end of year break.

This was most probably my last posting for the year.

Merry Christmas, everyone, and Guten Rutsch. Be safe, and remember this nice thought.

 

Geert.

European Private International Law, 3rd ed., 2021, Heading 2.2.3.1 (2.73 ff) and Heading 2.2.10.7 (2.355 ff).

 

Ryanair v DelayFix. The CJEU dots some i’s on choice of court and unfair terms in consumer contracts; defers to national law on the assignment issue; and keeps schtum on renvoi in Article 25 Brussels Ia.

In C-519/19 Ryanair v DelayFix, the CJEU held yesterday. The case echoes the facts in Happy Flights v Ryanair at the Belgian Supreme Court.

Following inter alia  CJEU Jana Petruchova, the (absence of) impact of substantive European consumer protection rules on the consumer section of European private international law is now fairly settled. The separation between the two sets of laws seems quite clear for the application of the consumer section itself.

However under A25 BIa, EU consumer law might still play a role in those circumstances where the conditions of the consumer Section are not met (dual-use contracts, contracts for transport (such as here) etc.) yet where one of the parties may qualify as a consumer under substantive EU consumer protection law.

A core issue of contention is the consideration of the EU unfair terms in consumer contracts Directive 2019/2161 and its predecessor Directive 93/13 , which was applicable in Ryanair v DelayFix. Via Article 25’s lex fori prorogati rule on substantive validity for choice of court, the Directive plays an important role.

In the case at issue at the CJEU, Passenger Rights, now DelayFix, a company specialised in the recovery of air passengers’ claims under the EU Regulation on air passenger rights, has requested the courts at Warsaw to order Ryanair,  to pay EUR 250 in compensation, a passenger on the relevant flight having assigned DelayFix their claim with respect to that airline.

The CJEU first of all looks at the issue from the limited extent of what is actually materially regulated by A25: the requirement of ‘consent’ (as well as the formal expression of that consent. It holds, not surprisingly, that in principle of course a jurisdiction clause incorporated in a contract may produce effects only in the relations between the parties who have given their agreement to the conclusion of that contract (referring ex multi to Refcomp).  In the case at issue,  a jurisdiction clause incorporated in the contract of carriage between a passenger and that airline cannot, in principle, be enforced by the latter against a collection agency to which the passenger has assigned the claim.

However, at 47, there is a gateway for the choice of court nevertheless to extend to third parties, namely when the third party not privy to the original contract had succeeded to an original contracting party’s rights and obligations, in accordance with national substantive law. At 49, referring to A25(1), that law is the lex fori prorogati. Here: Irish law.

Recital 20 BIa in fact instructs to include the lex fori prorogati’s conflict of laws rules (in other words: an instruction for renvoi) to be part of the referral. In the aforementioned Belgian SC ruling in Happy Flights, renvoi was simply ignored. Here, the CJEU does not mention renvoi, even if it does not expressly exclude it.

The CJEU does point out that Directive 93/13 on unfair terms in consumer contracts of course is part of the Irish lex fori prorogati, as it is of all the Member States. In making that reference it would seem to have answered in the negative the question whether the ‘consent’ provisions of that Directive have not been superseded in the context of the ‘consent’ requirements of Article 25 Brussels Ia, as recently discussed obiter in Weco Projects.

Per previous case-law, the capacity of the parties to the original agreement at issue is relevant for the application of the Directive, not the parties to the dispute.  Further, a jurisdiction clause, incorporated in a contract between a consumer and a seller or supplier, that was not subject to an individual negotiation and which confers exclusive jurisdiction to the courts in whose territory that seller or supplier is based, must be considered as unfair under Article 3(1) of Directive 93/13 if, contrary to requirement of good faith, it causes significant imbalance in the parties’ rights and obligations arising under the contract, to the detriment of the consumer. Reference is made in particular to Joined Cases C‑240/98 to C‑244/98 Océano Grupo (at 58).

It will be up to the national courts seised of a dispute, here: the Polish courts, to draw legal conclusions from the potential unfairness of such a clause (at 61). DelayFix therefore are not quite yet home and dry.

Geert.

European Private International Law, 3rd ed. February 2021, Chapter 2, para 2.240.

Idemia. Interrelated contracts (including issues of privity) and choice of court.

I was thinking of using [2019] EWHC 946 (Comm) Idemia v Decatur for exam purposes hence beyond an initial Tweet, I am a bit late with reporting. However the judgment consists of 144 paras of pure jurisdictional argument – hence making it useful for oral exam but not for a written one: for where does one start?
This is a typical case of reverse engineering: Decatur (which is an English company) and Tiger (which is incorporated in Bangladesh) have brought an action for the Discount Sums against Idemia in the courts of Bangladesh. Idemia (which is a French company) claims that that action (“the Bangladesh Action”) has been brought in breach of the jurisdiction provisions in the underlying contracts, which confer exclusive jurisdiction upon the competent courts of Geneva, Switzerland. Decatur and Tiger disagree, claiming that the subject matter of the Bangladesh Action is not covered by the jurisdiction provisions on which Idemia relies.
Idemia says that its contractual right to be sued in Switzerland (and nowhere else) means that it cannot be forced to litigate in Bangladesh. As for the courts of Switzerland, Idemia says that the Swiss courts do not have power to issue the anti-suit injunction which it needs to restrain the further prosecution of the Bangladesh Action.
Idemia claims to be entitled indirectly to enforce the jurisdiction provisions on which it relies by enforcing guarantees which Idemia claims that Decatur and Tiger have each given for the other’s obligations under the relevant contracts, and which contain English law and jurisdiction clauses.
At 143 Salter DJ helpfully summarises the lengthy discussions in the judgment:
1 Decatur’s challenge to the jurisdiction succeeds. Idemia’s claim to found jurisdiction upon Decatur’s domicile in England fails, because Decatur has the better of the argument that jurisdiction on that basis (in relation both to the contractual and the tortious claims asserted in the present action) has been prorogued to the courts of Geneva by the jurisdiction provisions of the Decatur Agreement. Idemia has failed to establish a good arguable case that it can found jurisdiction against Decatur on the jurisdiction provisions of the Schedule 6 Document annexed to the Tiger Agreement.
2 Tiger’s challenge to the jurisdiction succeeds. Idemia has failed to establish a good arguable case that it can found jurisdiction against Tiger on the jurisdiction provisions of the Schedule 6 Document annexed to the Decatur Agreement. Idemia has also failed to establish a good arguable case that it can rely upon Decatur as an “anchor defendant”, so as to establish jurisdiction over Tiger as a necessary or proper party.
3 Mr Rahman’s challenge to the purported service on him at York Way succeeds. York Way was not his “last known residence” within the meaning of CPR 6.9 at the material time, since Idemia had been told that he no longer lived there.
4 Mr Rahman’s challenge to the service on him at Morris Place fails. He was validly and effectively served there at his registered “service address”, pursuant to the Companies Act 2006 s 1140, even though he was not at the material time present, domiciled or resident within the jurisdiction. Idemia has therefore succeeded in establishing that the English court has jurisdiction over Mr Rahman on the basis of that service.
5 Mr Rahman’s application for a stay of this action against him on forum non conveniens grounds succeeds. No sufficient factors link the claims made against Mr Rahman in the present action to England. There are, however, substantial connections with Bangladesh. Bangladesh is therefore the forum in which Idemia’s claims against Mr Rahman can most suitably be tried for the interests of all the parties and for the ends of justice.
Geert.
(Handbook of) European private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, much of Chapter 2.

Bonnie Lackey v Mallorca Mega Resorts. High Court throws a wide net for jurisdictional privileges of consumers.

I have waited a little while to discuss (I had tweeted it earlier)  [2019] EWHC 1028 (QB) Bonnie Lackey v Mallorca Mega Resorts. It is a good case for an exam essay question and that is what I used it for this morning (albeit in simplified form, focusing on the consumer title).

Defendant is domiciled in Spain, and is hereafter referred to as ‘the Hotel’. Claimant was one of a group of friends who went on holiday to Magaluf in Mallorca, Spain. The booking was made in May 2017 by Ms Donna Bond, who was one of the party and a friend of Bonnie Lackey. The Agency’s Booking Conditions stated

‘references to “you” and “your” include the first named person on the booking and all persons on whose behalf a booking is made …’.

Section A, applicable to all bookings stated:

“By making a booking, you agree on behalf of all persons detailed on the booking that you have read these terms and conditions and agree to be bound by them”.

In my exam question I have left the agency out of the factual matrix. Its presence is immaterial for the case for the agency acts, well, as an agent: contract is between clients and the hotel direct.

The group were staying at the site owned and operated by the Hotel. It is agreed between parties that the Agency’s and Hotel’s marketing meets with the Pammer Alpenhof criteria, in other words that they direct their activity at England. Claimant, Ms Lackey, who is domiciled in England, was seriously injured in the ‘wave’ pool and is now tetraplegic. Damages application is for £9 million given the high cost of care for the now 41 year old claimant.

A first discussion concerned the insurance section (not part of the exam essay)(15 ff). Generali (of Spain) were the hotel’s insurers and had already accepted jurisdiction for the English courts. Their liability though was capped at an absolute max of 0.45 Million Euros – far off the claim. Claimant’s hope was that Article 13(3) Brussels Ia as Clyde point out, might be used for a claim anchored unto Generali. Here, the High Court followed the authority of Hoteles Pinero Canarias SL v Keefe [2015] EWCA Civ 598, see references to EU law there. That case went up to the Supreme Court and thence to the CJEU where it was taken off the roll following settlement. In any event, following Keefe, Davison M in Bonnie Lackey held that jurisdiction was conferred on the English courts by Articles 11 and 13 BIa, (contained in Section 3) which permit a claim here against the insurer and the joinder of the hotel to that claim. Master Davison rejected suggestions for the need of a CJEU reference among others because he also upheld jurisdiction under the consumer titleThe essential question here was whether there is a need for complete identity between the consumer referred to in Article 17(1) and the consumer referred to in Article 18(1) BIa.

Davison M suggests there need not, referring in particular to the Regulation’s aims to protect the weaker party, and to rule out as much as possible the risk of irreconcilable judgments.

Defendant’s reference to Schrems was considered immaterial. At 39: ‘Plainly, the consumer bringing the claim must be a beneficiary of the consumer contract or at least within its ambit. That does not mean that she personally must have concluded it. To borrow again from the judgment of Gloster LJ in Keefe, there would be no linguistic or purposive justification for such a restrictive interpretation.’ I am not sure I agree, not at any rate without proper discussion of ‘within its ambit’. The CJEU’s case-law on the protected categories does evidently aim to protect weaker categories and interpretation of same must serve that purpose. However the CJEU at the same time also emphasises the fact that these sections are an exception to the general rule and therefore must not be applied too widely, either.

Master Davison cuts short too extensive a discussion of the ‘ambit’ issue, by referring to the General Terms and Conditions – GTCS: the consumer who booked, accepted these GTCS ‘on behalf of all persons detailed in the booking’. At 40: ‘The hotel deployed no evidence of any kind to displace the effect of these terms, (which, I would add, are standard terms to be expected in a contract of this kind). A person who contracts through an agent has still “concluded” a contact. Thus, all argument about the need for complete identity between the consumer referred to in Article 17.1 and the consumer referred to in Article 18.1 is redundant. In each case it was the claimant, Ms Lackey.’ Whether counsel should have made more noise about this issue I do not know, however I would have expected discussion here of the general respect the Regulation has for privity of contract (which I discuss repeatedly on the blog).

I do not think this case will settle the matter. Its outcome evidently is positive (particularly considering that for Ms Lackey it will really not be straightforward to attend trial in Spain). However its legal reasoning cuts a few corners.

I would expect my students to discuss the need for effective protection of consumers ‘v’ the exceptional character of the section; and privity of contract which the CJEU flags on several occasions. Each with proper case-law references.

Geert.

Handbook of) European private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.8.2.

Secure Capital v Credit Suisse: Downstream holders of securities and third party redress.

As I seem to be in a mopping-up mode this morning, I might as well sneak in late review of Secure Capital SA v Credit Suisse AG, [2015] EWHC 388 (Comm) and at the Court of Appeal [2017] EWCA Civ 1486. Draft post of the latter has been in my ledger since 2017…

The cases essentially are concerned with characterisation; privity of contract, choice of law and dépeçage (bifurcation or severance).

My father-in-law OBE wonderfully sums up the world of international finance as fairy money. Harry (aka Tim Nice But Balding) & Paul express a similar feeling here. I can’t help but think of both when re-reading judgments in both cases.

Allen & Overy have most useful overview here, and RPC add useful analysis here. Claim related to eight longevity notes issued by Credit Suisse in 2008. The Notes were linked to life insurance policies, which meant that the prospect of the holder receiving payments for the Notes depended on mortality rates among a set of “reference lives”.  Secure Capital contended that Credit Suisse failed to disclose that the mortality tables used to generate the estimated life expectancies were shortly to be updated in a way that would significantly increase life expectancies, rendering the Notes effectively worthless. Secure Capital relied on a term in the issuance documentation that stated that Credit Suisse had taken all reasonable care to ensure that information provided in such documentation was accurate and that there were no material facts the omission of which would make any statements contained in those documents misleading.

The Notes were issued by Credit Suisse’s Nassau branch. Under the terms of the transaction documents, the Notes were deposited with the common depositary, Bank of New York Mellon, which held the securities on behalf of the clearing system, in this case Clearstream: which is Luxembourg-based.  The Notes were governed by English law and issued in bearer form.

Secure Capital essentially employ an attractive proposition in Luxembourg law reverse-engineering it either as the proper law of the contract in spite of prima facie clear choice of law, or alternatively as dépeçage: it argues that the provisions of a 2001 Luxembourg law on the Circulation of Securities, being the law that governed the operation of Clearstream through which the Notes were held, gave it an entitlement “to exercise the right of the bearer to bring an action for breach of a term of the…Notes“. In order to succeed, Secure Capital would have to circumvent the English law on privity of contract in respect of a transaction governed by English law.

Allen & Overy’s and RPC’s analysis is most useful for the unsuspected bystander like myself (thankfully I have a researcher, Kim Swerts, starting soon on a PhD in the area of conflict of laws and financial law).

In the High Court Hamblen J at 35 ff discusses the alternative arguments, wich would displace the suggestion that Secura Capital’s claim is a contractual claim. (Tort, as Betson LJ at the appeal stage notes at 24, was not advanced). This included a suggested property right (with discussion on the issue of the lex causae, whether e.g. this might be the lex situs), or, more forcefully, a right sui generis. None of these was upheld. Discussion on relevance of Rome I and /or the Rome Convention took place very succinctly at 53-54 – a touch too succinctly for Hamblen J’s swift reflection is that under both Rome and English conflicts rules, there was no suggestion of displacing the lex contractus. Depending on what counsel discussed, one would have expected some discussion of mandatory law perhaps, or indeed dépeçage – the latter was discussed summarily by Beatson LJ at the Court of Appeal under 54-55.

Geert.

(Handbook of) Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 3.

 

Happy Flights v Ryanair. Belgian Supreme Court (only) confirms proper lex causae for validity of choice of court under Article 25 Brussels Ia.

Thank you alumna and appreciated co-author Jutta Gangsted for flagging Charles Price’s (former learned colleague of mine at Dibb Lupton Alsop) and Sébastien Popijn’s alert on the Belgian Supreme Court’s ruling of 8 February last in C.18.0354.N Happy Flights v Ryanair. Happy Flights are a Belgium-based online claim agency to which disgruntled passengers may assign claims for compensation under Regulation 261/2004.

At issue is the validity of Ryanair’s choice of court in its general terms and conditions, referring consumers to Irish courts. The Brussels Commercial court on 30 May 2018 seemingly first of all did not assess whether the agency may be considered a ‘consumer’ within the terms of Irish consumer protection law (itself an implementation of Directive 93/13), having been assigned the consumers’ claims. The May 2018 decision itself is unreported <enters his usual rant about the lack of proper reporting of Belgian case-law>.

The Supreme Court (at 2, line 47) notes this lack of assessment by the lower court. It does not however complete the analysis sticking religiously to its role to interpret the law only, not the facts. Per CJEU Schrems mutatis mutandis I would suggest an affirmative answer (the agency having been assigned the consumers’ rights).

Do note that the use of the word ‘consumer’ in this context must not confuse: the consumer title of Brussels Ia itself does not apply unless the contract is one of combined travel and accommodation (or other services); the Regulation excludes contracts for travel only, from the scope of application of the consumer title.

The Brussels Commercial court subsequently and again from what one can infer from the Supreme Court’s ruling, discussed the validity of choice of court under Article 25 Brussels Ia, reviewing its formal conditions (formation of consent) yet judging the material validity under the lex fori, Belgian law, not the lex fori prorogati, Irish law. This is a clear violation of A25 juncto recital 20 Brussels Ia. The Supreme Court suggests that the relevant Irish implementation of the unfair consumer terms Directive 93/13 does imply invalidity of the clause (again: if the claim is held to fall under the consumer title, this analysis will become superfluous).

Note that the SC omits recital 20’s renvoi instruction, keeping entirely schtum about it: clearly misapplying the Regulation.

The Court’s judgment unlike the understandably enthusiastic briefing by Happy Flight’s counsel does not quite yet mean that Ryanair’s terms and conditions on this issue have been invalidated. However it is likely they will be upon further assessment on the merits – with hopefully the Court of Appeal not omitting Brussels Ia’s renvoi instruction. As I note above first up there will be the issue of assignment rather than the issue of A25.

For your interest, I gave a Twitter tutorial on a related issue (consumer law, lex causae, compulsory referral to arbitration) recently.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.9, Heading 2.2.9.4.

Kaefer Aislamientos v AMS Drilling et al. Article 25’s new clothes exposed.

Update 6 June 2019 prof Andrew Dickinson reviews the case in L.Q.R. 2019, 135(Jul), 369-374. He concludes (references omitted) ‘the better argument is that the jurisdictional issue in Kaefer could and should have been disposed of straightforwardly on the basis that there was no evidence to demonstrate the existence of a consensus between the claimant, on the one hand, and the third and fourth defendants, on the other, that met the formal requirements set out in art.25. The written contractual documentation referred only to the first defendant as a party, and to the second defendant as a person to whom invoices were to be addressed, and did not refer to the third and fourth defendants at all. On this approach, English law, and its undisclosed principal rule in particular, had no role to play.’

[2019] EWCA Civ 10 Kaefer Aislamientos v AMS Drilling et al is a good illustration of the difficulty of privity of contract (here: privity of choice of court), and the limits to the harmonisation of the rules on choice of court under Article 25 Brussels I Recast.

Herbert Smith Freehills have analysis of the wider issues of the case (over and above Article 25) here. The appeal considers among others the approach that courts should adopt when, as will usually be the case at the interim stage when a jurisdiction challenge is launched, the evidence before the Court is incomplete. Goldman Sachs v Novo Banco as well as Brownlie were referenced.

Appellant contends that the Court has jurisdiction to determine the claim against defendants AT1 and Ezion under Article 25 Brussels I Recast. It is said that the relevant contract contains an English exclusive jurisdiction clause and the relevant contract was concluded by AMS Mexico and/or AMS on behalf of AT1 and/or Ezion as undisclosed principals and, it follows, the contract, including its jurisdiction agreement, bound AT1 and Ezion.

At 81 Lord Green refers to the Privy Council in Bols [2006] UKPC 45 which itself had referred to Colzani and Coreck Maritime (staple precedent at the CJEU; students of conflict of laws: time to worry if you read this around exam time and haven’t a clue). In Bols Lord Rodgers leading, held that CJEU precedent imposed on the court the duty of examining “whether the clause conferring jurisdiction upon it was in fact the subject of a consensus between the parties” and this had to be “clearly and precisely demonstrated“. The purpose of the provisions was, it was said, to ensure that the “consensus” between the parties was “in fact” established.

Lord Green (this is not part of the decision in Bols) adds that the Court of Justice has however recognised that the manner of this proof is essentially an issue for the national laws of the Member States, subject to an overriding duty to ensure that those laws are consistent with the aims and objectives of the Regulation. He does not cite CJEU precedent in support – but he is right: Article 25 contains essential, yet precious little bite in determining just how to establish such consensus. Prima facie complete, it leaves a vault of issues to be determined, starting with the element of ‘proof’ of consensus.

Of interest is that before deciding the issue, Lord Green notes at 85 Abela v Baardani [2013] UKSC 44 (“Abela“) at paragraphs [44] and [53] per Lord Clarke and Lord Sumption, that to view permission to service out of jurisdiction as more often than not exorbitant, is unrealistic in the modern era: routinely where service out is authorised the defendant will have submitted contractually to the jurisdiction of the domestic courts (or there would be an argument to that effect) and in any event litigation between residents of different states is a normal incident of modern global business. As such the decision to permit service out is, today, more generally viewed as a pragmatic decision predicated upon the efficiency of the conduct of litigation.

It was eventually held that the evidence pointed against AT1 and Exion being undisclosed principals and that therefore the Court of Appeal was right in rejecting jurisdiction.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.9, Heading 2.2.9.4.

Qingdao Huiquan: Anti-suit injunction against a non-party to exclusive choice of forum (particularly: arbitration).

Thank you 20 Essex Street for flagging (and analysing)  [2018] EWHC 3009 (Comm) Qingdao Huiquan, granting anti-suit against a foreign litigant who is not a party to an exclusive choice of forum agreement (in particular: arbitration agreed in a settlement agreement). The third party, SDHX, is engaging in proceedings in China, and is related to one of the parties to the settlement agreement.

SDHX appeal to privity of contract is tainted by its invoking elements of the settlement agreement in the Chinese proceedings. Under relevant authority, this was ground for Bryan J to issue aint-suit against it.

A classic cake and eating it scenario, one could say: at 36: ‘I have had particular regard to the fact that it is clear from the Settlement Agreement that SDHX is indeed seeking to rely upon the terms of the Settlement Agreement in advancing its claims in the Chinese proceedings and that, in doing so, therefore, it has to take the burden of the arbitration clause, if an arbitration clause be a burden,..as well as the benefits that it seeks to derive from that agreement.’ (Update 19 April 2019 a principle known as equitable estoppel which was recently also applid by the South Carolina Supreme Court in Wilson ea v Willis ea 2019 WL 1549924 on wich more here).

eEvidently Brussels I Recast is not engaged.

Geert.

European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.2.10.