Should Bank St Petersburg anti-enforcement injunctions fall foul of the Brussels I-Regulation?

In Bank St Petersburg, the High Court issued an anti-enforcement injunction on 14 May. The Bank had obtained a number of Russian judgments in their favour (in interlocutory proceedings), which they aimed to have enforced in France and Bulgaria. Following the Russian judgments however parties agreed to have their core dispute (the control over a Russian company against the background of a restructuring operation of the  Arkhangelskys’ financial interest) judged exclusively by the English courts. The anti-enforcement injunction bans the Bank from having the judgments enforced in France, Bulgaria, or anywhere else.

Prima facie the injunction escapes all attention under the Brussels I Regulation: the judgments, enforcement of which is sought, originate from outside the EU. The choice of court clause is agreed between two parties domiciled outside of the EU, whence also falling outside the Regulation in its current version (this will change following the Brussels I-recast). (Notwithstanding Article 23(3)’s limited protection by instructing courts not named in the clause to desist – however Article 27’s lis alibi pendens rule would still protect the courts who despite  this instruction hear the case anyway).  Of particular note is also the subject-matter of the underlying dispute, which might be caught, if the Regulation were applied reflexively (such as the High Court did in Ferrexpo), by reflexive application in favour of the Russian courts of the exclusive Jurisdictional rule of Article 22(2).

These are altogether not very forceful points of entry for the Brussels I-Regulation to have a calling in the matter. Therefore this also rules out that the injunction might be caught by the ECJ’s general aversion vis–a-vis ‘anti-suit’ injunctions.

Geert.

Court of Appeal suggests in Dal Al Arkan that Choudhary reading of Article 22(5) Brussels I was per incuriam. (Exclusive jurisidiction for enforcement).

Postscript 24 November 2017 Dal Al Arkan was confirmed in Deutsche Bank AG v Sebastian Holdings Inc & Alexander Vik [2017] EWHC 459 and in Dennis v TAG Group [2017] EWHC 919 (Ch).  Permission for service out of jurisdiction is not required since the (now) Article 24(5) rule applies regardless of domicile of the parties.

In Dar Al Arkan, the Court of Appeal has suggested that the Court’s reading of Article 22(5) of the Brussels I-Regulation in Choudhary was  per incuriam (meaning, in short, without reference to relevant statutory law and case-law and hence not subject to the rule of precedent).

Article 22(5 provides for ‘exclusive jurisdiction’ ‘regardless of domicile’, ‘in proceedings concerned with the enforcement of judgments’, established for the ‘courts of the Member State in which the judgment has been or is to be enforced’.  The key word for this exclusive jurisdictional ground is ‘enforcement’. ‘Proceedings concerned with the enforcement of judgments’ means ‘those proceedings which can arise from recourse to force, constraint or distraint on movable or immovable property in order to ensure the effective implementation of judgments and authentic instruments‘ (Raport Jenard).

Difficulties arising out of such proceedings come within the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts for the place of enforcement, as was already the case in a number of bilateral Treaties concluded between a number of the original States, and also in the internal private international law of those States.

The Jenard report does not quote a specific reason for the reasoning behind this exclusivity, however one assumes that such proceedings are so intimately linked to the use of judicial authority and indeed force, that any complications in their enforcement ought to be looked at exclusively by the courts of the very State whose judicial authorities are asked to carry out the enforcement. In the words of the Court of Justice: ‘the essential purpose of the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of the place in which the judgment has been or is to be enforced is that it is only for the courts of the Member State on whose territory enforcement is sought to apply the rules concerning the action on that territory of the authorities responsible for enforcement.’ [Case C-261/90 Reichert v Dresdner Bank, [1992] ECR 2149, para 26.).

Neither Convention, Regulation or Report Jenard clarify specifically for Article 22(5) whether the Article applies against non-EU domiciled defendants. In Choudhary, the Court of Appeal had held that it does not. However it had refrained from citing any relevant statutory or (ECJ) case-law authority. In Dar Al Arkan, the Court suggests that this renders judgment in Choudhary per incuriam in line of ECJ and scholarly authority. This is the right approach: the raison d’etre for Article 22(5) is a specific and narrowly construed one, as it is for all other parts of Article 22, in particular per the extract from Reichert, above. (A convincing case for Gleichlauf between court and applicable law).

For instance, the Article 22(5) ground for jurisdiction must not thwart jurisdiction of other courts who would have jurisdiction had the case not been brought as part of an enforcement difficulty. Therore, by way of example, the court which has jurisdiction on the basis of Article 22(5), cannot hear the defence against enforcement which is based on a request for compensation with a different mutual debt (Case 220/84, AS-Autoteile Service). Neither does Article 22(5) trump the enforcement Title of the Regulation.

Within those narrow confines, there is no reason not to extend the jurisdictional rule to defendants domiciled outside of the EU. Their non-dom status is immaterial to the proceedings. (Note that the issue on the ‘reflexive’ nature of 22(5) is not resolved by this judgment. Neither by the Brussels I recast, which does clarify (recital 14) that indeed non-EU domicile of the defendants is not relevant for the application of Article 24 of the new Brussels I-Regulation).

Geert.

 

Negative jurisdiction conflicts covered by enforcement title of Brussels I – The ECJ in Gothaer

The ECJ has issued its ruling in C-456/11 Gothaer, the AG’s Opinion in which I reported earlier. The Court first of all confirmed that the term ‘judgment’ within the meaning of Article 32 of Regulation No 44/2001 covers a judgment by which a court of a Member State declines jurisdiction on the ground of an agreement on jurisdiction, even though that judgment is classified as a ‘procedural judgment’ by the law of the Member State addressed.

Moreover, the ECJ held that the court in the Member State in which enforcement is sought, is bound by the finding of the first court – made in the grounds of a judgment, which has since become final, declaring the action inadmissible – regarding the validity of that clause. To justify its finding, it refers in principle to the very definition of recognition as highlighted in the Report Jenard: recognition must ‘have the result of conferring on judgments the authority and effectiveness accorded to them in the State in which they were given’. Accordingly, a foreign judgment which has been recognised under Article 33 of Regulation No 44/2001 must in principle have the same effects in the State in which recognition is sought as it does in the State of origin. It further emphasizes the same arguments as flagged by the AG in coming to its finding.

On the peculiarity that in the case at issue, the choice of court clause points way from the EU, which raises the question what effect can be given to such clauses under the Jurisdiction Regulation, the court concedes that Article 23 does not apply, however, like the AG, it refers to the Lugano Convention, which contains a proviso very much like Article 23 JR. That to me is a bit of an awkward finding: whether the choice of court clause points to a Lugano State or not ought to be irrelevant. It would, through the recognition process, make choice of court in favour of Lugano States in some way less ‘not covered’ by the JR than those pointing to non-Lugano States (and by flagging Lugano, the Court leaves open the question of jurisdiction clauses in favour of non-Lugano States). A further argument made by the court in my view is more convincing, namely the ‘but for’ argument:

To allow a court of the Member State in which recognition is sought to disregard, as devoid of effect, the jurisdiction clause which a court of the Member State of origin has held to be valid would run counter to that prohibition of a review as to the merits, particularly in circumstances where the latter might well have ruled, but for that clause, that it had jurisdiction. (at 38)

Indeed typically the action in the court of origin is taken by the recalcitrant party (i.e. the one acting in spite of a choice of court clause), trying to convince the court of origin that it has jurisdiction on the basis of another Article in the JR, Whence indeed but for the clause, that court would most likely have exercised jurisdiction. A finding of validity of the clause therefore is likely to have been seriously considered. Allowing a court in another Member State to nevertheless exercise jurisdiction and refusing recognition and enforcement,  would make the JR nugatory.  This is in my view no different where as a result (such as here) no court in the EU will be able to hear the case.

Geert.

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