Public Institution for Social Security (PIFFS) v Ruimy. The High Court on ‘case pending’ in Article 34 Brussels Ia (forum non light), and a disappointing obiter conflation of forum non and Article 34.

In Public Institution for Social Security v Ruimy & Anor [2023] EWHC 177 (Comm) Jacobs J rejected both a forum non conveniens argument and an (acquired Brussels Ia) Article 34 Brussels Ia argument (raised by a Luxemburg-based defendant).

My paper on the Article 34 genesis and case-law hitherto is here.

Current claims are related to earlier jurisdictional challenges, culminating in The Public Institution for Social Security v Banque Pictet & Cie SA & Ors [2022] EWCA Civ 29 which I discuss here.

PIFSS is a Kuwaiti public institution responsible for Kuwait’s social security system and pension scheme. The claims involve alleged corruption of PIFSS. Director General by international financial institutions and intermediaries in return for causing or influencing PIFSS to invest substantial funds with or through those institutions and intermediaries (or related entities).

Following the Court of Appeal’s decision in January 2022 to uphold the successful jurisdictional challenge by some of the parties (‘the Mirabaud parties’), PIFSS have commenced proceedings against three of the Mirabaud parties (Banque Mirabaud, Mr Pierre Mirabaud and Mr Fauchier-Magnan) in Switzerland. These Swiss proceedings no longer, include a claim in respect of one of the schemes, the ‘Aerium’ scheme. Instead, the claim in those proceedings concerns a large number of other schemes in which the Mirabaud parties are alleged to have participated or assisted.

The forum non arguments are discussed [43] ff and are of course only possible because the United Kingdom are no longer party to the Lugano Convention (and the Swiss proceedings initiated post Brexit). At the heart of the forum non conveniens argument of some of the defendants in current claim, incl. Ruimy, is the proposition that the Aerium Scheme claims should be heard in Switzerland alongside the other claims advanced against the Mirabaud parties. [65] ff Jacobs J holds that defendants have not shown that Switzerland was clearly or distinctly more appropriate than the English forum.

I do not discuss forum non in detail for the interest of the post lies more with the Article 34 analysis.

This is discussed briefly [118] ff with the judge unfortunately albeit obiter following defendants’ concession that failure of the forum non argument would also sink Article 34. The reasoning seems to be that Article 34’s “necessary for the proper administration of justice” test fails if the third State at issue is not shown to be  the clearly or distinctly more appropriate than the English forum. As I discuss in my paper, this is wrong, and it falls into the same trap as the first instance judge in Municipio. While considerations relevant to the forum non test may play a role in Article 34, it is wrong to conflate the two tests.

As noted this view is made obiter only for the formal reason for the judge to reject the Article 34 defence is his decision that Article 34(1)’s condition  that an action be ‘pending before a court of a third State at the time when a court in a Member State is seised of an action which is related to the action in the court of the third State’, has not been met. Per the Court of Appeal in Municipio, “The action in the third state must be pending before the third state court when the member state court becomes seised of the action” (see also Henshaw J in Viegas v Cutrale[149]).

[122] Swiss proceedings which might potentially be considered to be relating to the English proceedings came too late, they were most definitely not pending at the time of the current English claims.

The only potentially relevant “proceedings”, in the context of Article 34, are the proceedings commenced by the service of the commandements de payer, however, they are held not to qualify: [129]

I agree with PIFSS that the request and issue of the commandements de payer did not mean that proceedings were “pending before a court” of Switzerland. In short, this is because there was no document lodged with any court. Commandments de payer are issued by administrative authorities, not a court. …a commandement de payer is at most a precursor to an action in court. In the present case, there was an objection by the recipient, with the result that court proceedings were then necessary if the requesting party wanted to take matters forward. This is what happened in the present case, when PIFSS did issue civil proceedings against the Mirabaud parties in 2022. But there were no relevant court proceedings issued by PIFSS in Switzerland prior to that time.

A judgment of note.

Geert.

X v PayPal. Questionable Dutch compulsory settlement jurisdiction reignites discussion similar to English scheme of arrangement tourism. Also raises the question whether compulsory settlements are ‘contracts’ under Rome I.

The Dutch first instance judgment in Groningen  earlier this month, in X v PayPal (Europe) S.a.r.l. & Cie S.C.A., sees claimant debtor essentially seeking a compulsory settlement – CS. PayPal (established in Luxembourg) is the only debtor refusing the settlement proposed by claimant’s bank.

The CS is not listed in Annex I to the Insolvency Regulation 2015/848 (always check for the consolidated version, for the Annex is frequently updated by the Member States’ communication of proceedings to be included). This is where the discussion of scope of application could and should end.

Instead, the judge tests the CS against A1(1)’s abstract criteria. She decides there is neither divestment of assets, nor a temporary stay of individual enforcement proceedings.

This then raises the applicability of Brussels Ia. Seeing as the judge finds the action does not meet with the CJEU F-Tex criteria (Brussels Ia’s insolvency exception only applies to actions which derive directly from insolvency proceedings and are closely connected with them), she holds that Brussels Ia’s ‘insolvency’ exception is not triggered and that BIa applies.

The judge then cuts the corner which English courts in schemes of arrangement have often cut, namely to consider the willing debtors, domiciled in The Netherlands, as ‘defendants’ per Brussels Ia, hereby triggering Article 8(1) BIa’s anchor defendant mechanism. The judge justifies this by stating that the other creditors are interested parties and that it is in the interest of the sound administration of justice that the CS be discussed viz the interested parties as a whole. That may well be so, however in my view that is insufficient reason for A8(1) to be triggered. A8(1) requires ‘defendants’ in the forum state, not just ‘interested parties’. The suggestion that a co-ordinated approach with an eye for all interested parties, justifies jurisdiction, puts A8(1)‘s expediency cart before the A4 ‘defendant’-horse.

The judge then also cuts corners (at least in her stated reasons) on the applicable law issue, cataloguing this firmly in Rome I. She argues that even if the CS is a forced arrangement, replacing a proposed contract which party refused to enter into, it is still a contractual arrangement. That is far from convincing.

Equally not obvious is as the judge holds, that  per A4(2) Rome I, the party required to effect the ‘characteristic performance’ of a compulsory settlement, is the claimant-debtor of the underlying debt, leading to Dutch law being the lex causae.

The judgment at the very least highlights the continuing elephant in the restructuring tourism room, namely the exact nature of these proceedings under Brussels Ia, EIR and Rome I.

Geert.

GW Pharma v Otsuka. Moçambique rule confirmed as not being engaged in mere contractual dispute. Court of Appeal ia distinguishes direct intellectual property rights validity challenges, and proceedings “principally concerned with” validity.

In GW Pharma Ltd & Anor v Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd [2022] EWCA Civ 1462, the Court of Appeal confirmed jurisdiction for the courts of England and Wales, confirming the first instance judgment which I reviewed here.

The first instance judgment dismissing GW Pharma’s application decided three issues: jurisdiction under the Moçambique principle, foreign act of state and a distinct application for a stay on forum non conveniens grounds.

Arguments on appeal are listed [20] ff:

GW Pharma’s grounds 1 and 2 address the Moçambique principle and its application. GW Pharma contend that the judge erred in applying an overly restrictive test for the purposes of the Moçambique principle and further erred in his application of that test to the facts.

Ground 3 addresses the foreign act of state doctrine, and the common law public policy exception. The submission is that the judge erred in law in holding that the act of state doctrine (or common law public policy) did not require the court to decline jurisdiction.

Ground 4 relates to forum non conveniens, contending that the judge erred in declining a stay on those grounds.

Otsuka’s case is that the judge was right for the reasons he gave but Otsuka also advances two additional points in support of the judge’s overall conclusion. The first point is that as well as the exception to the Moçambique rule based on whether a validity challenge is direct or not which the judge applied, there is a second exception – for claims which relate to a contract. This case would also fall within that exception. The second point is a submission that GW Pharma’s case would necessarily involve a country-by-country approach, contrary to the approach adopted by the English courts in related contexts (citing the Supreme Court in Unwired Planet v Huawei [2020] UKSC 37). The relevant principles ought not to be applied so as to prevent Otsuka from bringing its contractual royalty claim against GW Pharma in a single set of proceedings in GW Pharma’s home jurisdiction.

Birss LJ [26] notes, with common sense, that Brussels Ia authority still has relevance, despite the Regulation no longer applying

the fact the Regulation does not apply is a different thing from the question whether aspects of the thinking behind the Brussels Regulation may illuminate questions which do arise.

[29] the main point of UKSC Lucasfilm is summarised as the

modern trend [being] in favour of the enforcement of foreign intellectual property rights, particularly where there is no issue as to validity.

That modern trend of course provokes discussion as to when a claim engages validity as opposed to mere infringement, with Chugai a classic illustration. The judge here sometimes necessarily skates on thin ice for creative counsel may direct the end-result by claim formulation. Here Birss LJ offers a relevant distinction between direct challenges to the validity of a patent, as opposed to proceedings being ‘principally concerned with’ such challenges:

In Chugai there is reference to both the idea of whether a validity challenge is a direct one and also to whether proceedings are “principally concerned with” validity. These two expressions are performing different tasks and it is worth keeping them distinct. A claim consisting of nothing other than a claim for infringement, in which the defendant does not claim that the patent is invalid, but merely requires the court to ask itself, as a guide to construction, what would be the hypothetical consequences for validity if there was infringement, does not involve a direct challenge to validity. Such a claim is also not principally concerned with validity. On the other hand a claim consisting of nothing other than a request for revocation on the ground of invalidity or a declaration of invalidity would be a direct challenge to validity, and would be principally concerned with validity. However a claim raising multiple issues might well properly be said not to be principally concerned with validity, even if one of the subsidiary issues was a direct challenge to validity; but in such a case the court’s response would depend on the circumstances. The court might not decline jurisdiction over the dispute as a whole but might address individual issues separately. If the direct challenge only arises on a contingent basis then the right response might involve case management. Unlike the judge below, I would not describe this latter situation as one in which what was really a direct validity challenge was rendered not a direct challenge owing to its subsidiary nature in the action as a whole. The nature of the challenge is a direct one, but its status in the proceedings as a whole means that they are not principally concerned with it.

This is a discussion which to my mind is also useful for the A24(4) discussion in Brussels Ia, sub judice in BSH Hausgeräte v Electrolux.

[38] ff discusses the long standing exception to the Moçambique rule concerning contracts and equitable obligations. [40] There are said to be two questions in the present case about the contract exception. One is whether it depends on the existence of an exclusive jurisdiction clause in the contract  (answered [42] in the negative] and the other is about the extent of the exception itself. Would it, for example, allow the court to entertain a direct challenge to the validity of a foreign patent which the court would not have had jurisdiction to determine in the absence of the relevant contract (or equitable obligation)? : [43]:

In a way the question is whether the exception really is an exception to a rule that the court has no jurisdiction to determine a claim principally concerned with title (etc.) to foreign land or whether it is really just a manifestation of the proper application of the test for what it does or does not mean to say that a claim is principally concerned with title (etc.). Or putting it another way, can the court, when considering a contract claim, decide on title to foreign land, and by extension the validity of a foreign patent?

[46] that question is answered with reference to the classic in rem v in personam discussion that is part of the original Moçambique rule (and A24(1)BIa)

The contract exception does not allow the court to make a decision about the validity of a foreign patent in rem but it would allow the court to address the validity of a foreign patent in the course of making a decision concerning contractual rights in personam, assuming (such as if the Lear point does work in the way I have described) such a question was relevant to the contract decision.

[48] ff Lord Justice Birss summarises:

Bearing all this in mind, I would state the Moçambique rule as explained and formulated in Lucasfilm, and as it applies to patents in the following way:

First, in a case in which the courts of England and Wales have in personam jurisdiction over a defendant, then the courts have jurisdiction in proceedings for infringement of a foreign patent save where those proceedings are principally concerned with a question of the validity of that patent. The proceedings will not be principally concerned with validity only because the defendant, who does not claim that the patent is invalid, requires the court to ask itself as a guide to construction, what would be the hypothetical consequences for validity if there was infringement. However what the rule does not permit is a direct challenge to the validity of a foreign patent, and (subject to the exception below) the court has no jurisdiction to determine a claim that the foreign patent is invalid.

Second, this Moçambique principle is also subject to a contractual exception. If the case is one in which the court is asked to enforce a contract between the parties then in addition to questions of patent scope/infringement, if and only to the extent that questions of the validity of foreign patents need to be addressed in order to decide on the true nature and scope of the parties’ contractual obligations to one another, then the court can do so.

Applying this summary to the first instance judgment, that judgment is confirmed [60].

The third ground of appeal then invokes the foreign act of State doctrine, in that is is said that (certain) intellectual property rights may be said to depend on the grant or registration by the state. Birss LJ dismisses the argument [73] essentially by suggesting it harks back to bygone notions of intellectual property rights:

even absent the authorities I would hold that as a matter of principle the modern grant of a patent for an invention does not fit within the act of state doctrine as it stands today for two reasons. The first reason relates to the exercise of grant itself. The very word “grant” harks back to a past time, before the Statute of Monopolies 1623, when letters patent were granted on the whim of the Stuart monarchs (and similarly I suspect the Danish monarchy in Blad v Bamfield). Today there is no such condescension by the sovereign power in the grant of a patent by the Comptroller of the Patent Office. Once a properly constituted patent application has been examined and found to comply with the requirements of the law, the Comptroller is required by statute to grant the patent. The relevant words are in s18(4) of the Patents Act 1977 which provide essentially that if the applicant’s application is all in order then ‘the comptroller shall … grant him a patent.’ The second reason follows on from this and was given by Henry Carr J in Chugai at paragraph 68. He observed that once the patent had been granted, any party can challenge the validity of the patent and then can do so in a manner and on grounds which are quite different from an attempt to challenge legislation or government acts such as requisition.

Conclusion on this ground [75]

on grounds of authority and principle, I agree with the judge below that the act of state doctrine is not relevant to the analysis of the court’s jurisdiction in this case.

The first instance judge’s finding on forum non is also confirmed and the appeal therefore dismissed.

I do not know whether, if sought, permission to appeal to the Supreme Court will be granted, but it seems unlikely. The appeal judgment in my view includes important instruction in particular on the ‘principally concerned with’ issue however it largely applies existing UKSC authority.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, 2.196 ff.

Grand Production v GO4YU. Szpunar AG (not, due to suggested inadmissibility) on copyright, VPNs and forum delicti for platform streaming.

Szpunar AG opined a few weeks back in C-423/21 Grand Production v GO4YU  ea. The case involves a variety of issues related to streaming and VPNs, many of which concern telecoms law yet one is of interest to the blog: namely the question whether

in the event of an allegation of infringement of copyright and related rights guaranteed by the Member State of the court seised, that court has jurisdiction only to rule on the damage caused in the territory of the Member State to which it belongs – because the territoriality principle precludes domestic courts from having jurisdiction to determine and examine the facts in relation to foreign acts of infringement – or can or must that court also rule on offences committed outside that territory (worldwide), as alleged by the author whose rights were allegedly infringed?

It transpires from the Opinion however that the case in the national court does not involve one for damages, yet rather one for a temporary injunction prohibiting distribution. To the degree this is aimed at the Serbian defendants at issue, these are domiciled outside the EU and hence not subject for actions in tort, to Brussels Ia. Against the Austrian defendants, the case is subject to full jurisdiction under A4 forum re, hence not triggering the full or partial jurisdictional issues of the relevant CJEU case-law (Bolagsupplysningen etc.).

The AG suggests inadmissibility of the Brussels Ia question.

Geert.

ROI Land Investments. The CJEU on letters of comfort and their leading to a qualification as employment cq consumer contract for jurisdictional purposes, and on more generous national rules for the protected categories.

In an interesting judgment, the CJEU yesterday held (no English edition yet) in C-604/20 ROI Land Investments Ltd v FD on protected categories suing a defendant not formally associated with the claimant by a clear contract of employment. That the defendant is not domiciled in the EU is in fact of less relevance to the issues.  I had somehow missed Richard de la Tour AG’s Opinion on same (it happens to the best of us).

Claimant in the main proceedings is FD, domiciled in Germany. Defendant is not his current employer and is not domiciled in a Member State. Yet by virtue of a letter of comfort it is directly liable to the employee for claims arising from an individual contract of employment with a third party. The gist of the case is whether an employee can sue this legal person under the employment title if the contract of employment with the third party would not have come into being in the absence of the letter of comfort.

The slightly complex three part construction, transferring relationships of employment, essentially is one of tax optimisation via Switserland. FD used to be employed by ROI Investment, a Canadian corporation, before his contract was transferred to R Swiss, a Swiss SPV created for the very purpose of the operation. ROI Investment via a letter of comfort effectively guaranteed the outstanding wages due to FD. FD’s contract with Swiss was ended, a German court held this to have been done illegally and ordered Swiss to pay a substantial sum whereupon Swiss went into insolvency. FD now wishes to sue the Canadian ’employer’.

CJEU Bosworth is the most recent case which extensively discusses the existence of ’employment’, referring to CJEU Shenavai and Holterman. In ROI Land the CJEU [34] instructs the national court in particular to assess whether there is a relationship of subordination between individual and corporation, even if subordination is actually only one of the Shenavai /Holterman criteria.

Erik Sinander has already noted here (his post came in as I was writing up mine) that this is a different emphasis from the AG: he had suggested a third party who was directly benefitting from the work performed by the employee (“un intérêt direct à la bonne exécution dudit contrat”) should be considered an employer. That to my mind is way too large a criterion and the CJEU is right to stick to the earlier ones.

[35] the CJEU suggests relevant circumstances in the case most probably confirming the relationship of subordination hence of employment: the activities which FD carried out for his two respective employers stayed the same, and the construction via the  SPV would not have been entered into by FD had it not been for his original employer’s guarantee.

The forum laboris in the case at issue is then I assume (it is not discussed quite so clearly in the judgment) determined by the place of habitual performance of the activities for the third party, the formal (now insolvent) employer, not the activities carried out for the issuer of the letter of comfort: for there are (no longer) such activities.

[37] ff the Court entirely correctly holds that more protective national rules cannot trump Brussels Ia’s jurisdictional provisions for the  protected categories: both clear statutory language and statutory purpose support that  conclusion.

[52] ff the CJEU entertains the subsidiary issue raised in the national proceedings as to whether the contract may be considered a consumer contract. It holds that the concept of ‘a purpose outside (a natural person’s) trade or profession’ does not just apply to a natural person in a self-employed capacity but may also apply to an employee. [56] seeing as FD would not have signed the new employment agreement without the letter of comfort, the employment agreement cannot be considered to be outside FD’s profession. Therefore it cannot qualify as a consumer contract.

Geert.

 

 

Maceió victims v Braskem. Rotterdam court refuses application for Article 34 lis pendens stay.

Update 17 01 2023 my article on Articles 33-34 has now been published: Lis Pendens and third states: the origin, DNA and early case-law on Articles 33 and 34 of the Brussels Ia Regulation and its “forum non conveniens-light” rules, The link in the title should give free access to the first 50 takers, and I assume link to the review for those that come after.

The (first instance) court at Rotterdam has upheld anchor jurisdiction and refused an application for an Article 34 Brussels Ia stay. The case concerns victims of earthquakes in the Brasilian Maceió region, which they argue are caused by the mining activities of Braskem. The judgment is only available in Dutch.

The Dutch anchor defendants are intra-group suppliers of ia specialty chemicals, and finance. The main target of the claim of course is the Brasilian mother holding. Whether the latter can be brought into the proceedings is not subject to Brussels Ia but rather to Dutch residual rules. However just as in e.g. Shell, the Dutch rules are applied with CJEU authority on Article 8(1) Brussels Ia firmly in mind. In much more succinct terms than the English courts in similar proceedings, the Dutch courts [6.16] finds the cases so ‘closely related’ that it is expedient to hear the cases together. It emphasises that while the respective roles and liabilities of the various undertakings concerned is likely to be very different, there is a bundle of legal and factual questions that runs jointly throughout the various claims. [6.18] it emphasises that the decision to base the European headquarters of the group, and the finance activities at Rotterdam, implies that the concern reasonably could have foreseen it would be sued here.

Equally succinctly [6.19 ff] the Court rejects the argument that the use of the Dutch corporations as anchor defendants is an abuse of process. Such abuse must be narrowly construed and  it is far from obvious that the claim against the anchors is entirely without merit.

Seemingly defendants tried to argue forum non conveniens however [6.23] the court points out such construction does not exist in The Netherlands and obiter it adds (like the Court of Appeal in Municipio) that practical complications in either hearing of the case or enforcement of any judgment are not a reason to dismiss jurisdiction.

Request for a stay in the procedures viz the Brasilian corporations [6.26] is rejected on (Dutch CPR) lis pendens rules for the parties in the proceedings are not the same. Article 34 is dealt with in two paras (quite a contrast with the E&W courts). The pending procedures vis-a-vis Article 34 are not, it seems, Brasilian Civil Public Actions – CPAS (these were at issue in Municipio de Mariana (of some interest is that the law firm behind the claims is the same in both cases)). Rather, pending liquidation proceedings are considered as the relevant assessment points. [6.28] obiter the court finds that the cases are most probably not related. It grounds  its decision however on a stay not being in the interest of the sound administration of justice. The court holds that the Brasilian proceedings are not likely to be concluded within a reasonable time. Defendants’ commitment at hearing to speed up the process in Brasil, are met with disbelief by the court given the defendants’ attitude in the Brasilian procedures hitherto.

[6.32] permission to appeal the interim judgment on jurisdiction is denied. This means that, like in Airbus, discussion on the private international law issues is likely only to resurface at the stage of appealing the judgment on the merits, too.

An important judgment: other than Petrobas, there are to my knowledge no continental judgments discussing Article 34 in this intensity (there are E&W judgments, as readers of the blog will know).

Geert.

See also ‘Dude, where’s my EU court? On the application of Articles 33-34 Brussels Ia’s forum non conveniens- light rules’, Journal of Private International Law, forthcoming 2022.

On the Beach v Ryanair. A clairvoyance stretch in assessing an Article 30 ‘related actions’ stay.

Another overdue post following up on earlier Twitter flag. In On the Beach Ltd v Ryanair UK Ltd & Anor [2022] EWHC 861 (Ch) is a competition law ‘stand-alone’ damages suit. OTB  is an online travel agent. It claims against Ryanair on the basis of abuse of dominant position. Ryanair have claimed against ia OTB in Ireland, on the basis among others of infringement of intellectual property rights. (Ryanair prefer to sell directly to consumers and  do not generally co-operate with online or other travel agents). OTB suggest the Irish claim is effectively warehoused and that an Irish court will soon hold the claim be dismissed for want of ‘prosecution’.

Nugee LJ considered in particular whether in assessing the relatedness of proceedings, the judge can indeed may have to take into account what is likely to be pleaded by way of defence in both actions (here: OTB is likely to plead competition law arguments should the case continue in Ireland). He held [52] he can:

the better view is that where an application for a stay is made at a stage when the defence to an action has not yet been pleaded, the Court can have regard to the substance of a defence that it can confidently predict is likely to be pleaded.

However [53] ff on the facts he then sided with OTB which argued

that the Court can hardly proceed on the basis that OTB is likely to plead any particular matter by way of defence in the Irish OTB proceedings as if its motion to dismiss the action for want of prosecution succeeds, there never will be a defence. At that point any chance of the two actions being related will disappear.

This is where the reasoning becomes contradictory. The judge [54] concedes that he ‘was not asked by either party to form any view of the likely outcome of OTB’s motion to dismiss, and I would in any event be very reluctant to do so as this is self-evidently a matter for the Irish court’ . However [55] he says that

if one looks at the Irish proceedings as they stand, with no competition issues yet raised, there does not seem to me much overlap between the claims there made and Ryanair’s prospective defence in England which will be focused very largely on competition issues.

This I believe amounts to a form of judicial and litigation clairvoyance which goes too far, even in the wide remit which Article 30 gives to the judge assessing relatedness and the appropriateness of an Article 30 stay.

[57] ff Nuggee LJ holds obiter that had the cases been related, he would have exercised his discretion not to stay.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, 2.521 ff.

Simon v Tache. Interesting issues on post-Brexit Brussels lis pendens, and on moment of seizure in amended claims.

Simon v Tache & Ors [2022] EWHC 1674 (Comm) is an interesting judgment which one assumes is very appealable given the untested Withdrawal Agreement and other angles.

At issue is i.a. whether Article 67 Withdrawal Agreement requires both sets of proceedings which are a candidate for Brussels Ia’s Article 29-30 lis pendens /related cases provisions, to have been pending prior to Brexit Implementation Date and what date needs to be considered the date of seizing.

Claimants argue, that the Belgian Proceedings, which I outline below, could only have become related on 3 May 2021 by the lodging of the 3 May Submissions, and that the English Court only became seized of the English proceedings after 31 December 2020, either on the making of Service Out Application or on the subsequent issue of the English Proceedings. On this basis it would not be open to the Defendants in the English proceedings to rely upon Article 67 as applying Articles 29 and 30 of Brussels Recast to the English Proceedings.

Claimant is a French national living in London. She is a medical doctor who previously practiced. She now focuses on art and design. Defendants are Belgian nationals, contemporary art dealers with a gallery website in English. This element notably raises issues whether the contract could qualify as a consumer contract. Defendants deny this, citing the very example I often give in class when teaching the relevance of language in the context of the Pammer Alpenhof criteria: the very use of English on websites, particularly in the art, design or hospitality sector in cities like Brussels are hardly an indication of direction of activities outside the location. The contract being a consumer contract seemingly was not flagged in claim form or submissions, it only came up at hearing.

Claimant and defendants having met in Paris, various artworks were delivered to claimant’s Paris address. Lex contractus is disputed [20]. The relationship soured and Belgian libel proceedings by defendants in the E&W proceedings were initiated end of October 2020. End of March 2021 Dr Simon was given permission to serve out. Her application mentioned the Belgian proceedings but argued that these were unrelated, ia in light of the different (non)contractual basis of those proceedings [35]. A claim form was sent to defendants’ lawyers early April 2021 and the claim form was filed 10 May 2021. On 3 May the defendants in the E&W proceedings amended thier Belgian claim, adding a request for declaration of non-liability: in other words they requested the Belgian court to declare that there was no wrongdoing on their part in the contractual relationship.

End of October 2021 the first instance Belgian court held it does have jurisdiction, but that no damage was proven. That court however declined to rule on the claim for a negative declaration because the allegations were before the English court. The Belgian court’s dictum on that issue is very brief, declaring only ‘“Whereas the ensuing dispute was never resolved and is currently the subject of a lawsuit in London, such that this court will refrain from commenting on the merits of that case.” : it did not specify why which clearly is a failure on its part.

[50] it is the Defendants’ case that the Belgian court was first seized on 3 May 2021, before the E&W Court was first seized on 10 May 2021 on the issue of proceedings. On the other hand, it is Dr Simon’s case that the E&W Court was first seized on the making of the Service Out Application and/or the making of the Service Order on 30 March 2021, alternatively on the issue of the Claim Form on 10 May 2021, but that the Belgian court was only seized when the Defendants’ claim for a negative declaration was filed on 5 August 2021.

It is undisputed [52] that as a matter of Belgian procedural law, it would be open to Dr Simon to raise a counterclaim in respect of the causes of action that she seeks to pursue by the English Proceedings in the Belgian Proceedings, and to do so notwithstanding that they are now before the Belgian Appeal Court. Expectations of the Court of Appeal ruling varied between one and five years [54] however in the end that Court surprised all and held after the English judge’s draft judgment had been circulated.

In November 2021 Dr Simon at her turn added a claim to her English claim form, one in dishonesty.

The judge holds [74] that BIa continues to apply to new claims added to proceedings commenced prior to 31 December 2020 and claims against new defendants joined to such proceedings after that date. He refers to  On the Beach Ltd v Ryanair UK Ltd [2022] EWHC 861 (Ch) in support (acknowledging that that case is not authority to him and that the parties in that case were in agreement on the issue).

On the issue of seizure, the judge holds [92] that this must be linked to the formal lodging of a claim form in order to issue proceedings, rather than the taking of some preliminary step to obtain permission with regard to the service of proceedings which might never be issued. I have sympathy with the view [85] that this gives the other party a great opportunity to torpedo proceedings.

“the same cause of action, between the same parties” is judged, despite an acknowledgment of EU autonomous interpretation, with reference to Belgian procedural law and expert reports on same [103]. That must be a vulnerable position.

Conclusion on A29 is that a stay must be ordered [114] and obiter [120] that one would have been ordered on A30 grounds.

Service out is discussed [121] in a bit of a vacuum because of course is BIa applies then service out is not required. Here reference is made to Rome I’s applicable law as an element of the gateway requirements (contract governed by English law) (held: no: Belgian law is prima facie lex contractus [134], with discussion ia of the consumer title. As a pudding, forum non conveniens is considered and this is surely where the jurisdictional arguments become excessive per Lord Briggs’ speech in Vedanta.

Then comes the final pousse-café: the Belgian Court of Appeal, unexpectedly fast, found it had no jurisdiction (this may be appealable to the Belgian Supreme Court), leaving the possibility of a negative conflict of jurisdiction which the parties were invited to comment upon.

A case to watch.

Geert.

The CJEU in Allianz. Among others linguistic arguments lead to the Court confirming Brussels Ia identifies territorial jurisdiction in direct action against an insurer.

In Case C-652/20 HW, ZF, MZ v Allianz Elementar Versicherungs AG, the CJEU held (no English version of the judgment is as yet available) end of June that A11(1)(b) Brussels Ia, determines jurisdiction not just of ‘the’ courts in a Member State (leaving territorial jurisdiction to be determined by national civil procedure rules) but rather of a specific court within that Member State. The judgment is a bit longer than might have been expected: that is because the referring judge did not qualify one or two elements which, particularly in an insurance context, can be quite convoluted. (Such as the nature and deliniation of ‘beneficiaries’, ‘insureds’, ‘victims’).

In accordance with the Article, ‘An insurer domiciled in a Member State may be sued: …(b) in another Member State, in the case of actions brought by the policyholder, the insured or a beneficiary, in the courts for the place where the claimant is domiciled’.

[35] The Court observes that in the Romanian (the language of the case) as well as the English and Finnish version of Brussels Ia use the plural ‘courts’ while in the other language versions, the singular is used. (Regular readers of the blog may be familiar with my earlier work on languages and interpretation). Coupled with the indications of territorial jurisdiction in the relevant section of the Report Jenard, and with the similar language in A7(1) and (2) and relevant case-law there (ex multi: Kareda, Volvo), the CJEU concludes that where A11(1)(b) and all its conditions apply, the Article identifies both national and territorial jurisdiction indeed.

Geert.

 

Brussels Ia and arbitration. The Prestige aka London Steam-Ship Owners’ Mutual Insurance Association Limited v Spain. Time for the EU to decide its direction of travel on commercial arbitration.

I have a bit of catching up to do with the blog and I shall start with the case that is currently also being discussed over at the EAPIL blog. The CJEU has held in C-700/20 London Steam-Ship Owners’ Mutual Insurance Association Limited v Spain (re: the Prestige oil spill). I have further background and links to the English judgments that preceded the reference in my review of the AG Opinion. In that review, I predicted the Court would probably not follow its Advocate General and I should have betted on it for the Court, in Grand Chamber no less, did indeed largely not follow its Advocate General.

Had it been up to the Court of Appeal, the case should have not been referred at all, and given the consequences of the CJEU’s judgment, the referral may come to be regretted.

Essentially, the question at issue is whether an English ‘Section 66’ (Arbitration Act) judgment, which confirms an arbitral award is enforceable in the same way as a judgment in ordinary, qualify as a judgment under the recognition and enforcement Title of Brussels Ia (the case is formally subject to its predecessor, the Brussels I Regulation – see here for a BI- BIa table of equivalence which will make reading of the judgment easier)? If it does, the Spanish judgment contradicting the award is unlikely to be recognised.

Of note is that the 1958 New York Convention does not come into play in the proceedings for the reason that those proceedings do not involve, as Article I(1) of that convention requires, the recognition and enforcement of an arbitral award in a State other than that in which that award was made: the award was made in the UK.

The AG, despite his broad interpretation of the arbitration exclusion in the case at issue, suggests the proceedings are not caught by the arbitration exception, for reasons I discuss in my earlier post. The Court disagrees all in all in succinct terms.

It is worth relisting the 3 issues which the High Court is unsure about, followed by the CJEU’s answer to each:

First, whether a judgment such as its judgment given under Section 66 of the Arbitration Act 1996 qualifies as a ‘judgment’, within the meaning of Article 34(3) of Brussels I, where that court has not itself heard all the substantive merits of the dispute which had been heard by the arbitration tribunal.  Secondly, it has doubts whether a judgment falling outside the material scope of BI  by reason of the arbitration exception may nevertheless be relied on to prevent recognition and enforcement of a judgment from another Member State pursuant to Article 34(3).

Answering these together, the Court [44] kicks off with a curt reference to a fairly unqualified statement in CJEU Rich [18]: ‘the Contracting Parties [to the Brussels Convention, GAVC] intended to exclude arbitration in its entirety, including proceedings brought before national court’.  Further support is found in the 4th (!) para of recital 12 of Brussels Ia, referring specifically to recognition and enforcement proceedings as being excluded from Brussels Ia: [the Regulation does not apply] ‘nor to any action or judgment concerning the annulment, review, appeal, recognition or enforcement of an arbitral award.’

With reference to CJEU Gazprom, the Court [45] notes that the lex causae for recognition and enforcement of arbitral awards is national law, including the international law obligations the Member State may have adhered to. As noted however, the New York Convention does not apply to the recognition of the award at issue.

[48] ff the CJEU however concedes, partially with reference to earlier case-law, that judgments on issues carved out from the Regulation, may nevertheless qualify as a ‘judgment’ as meant in Article 34(3) [‘a judgment shall not be recognised’ ‘3. if it is irreconcilable with a judgment given in a dispute between the same parties in the Member State in which recognition is sought’]. This is mostly meant to protect Member State’s internal legal order and ensure that its rule of law is not disturbed by the obligation to recognise a judgment from another Member State which is inconsistent with a decision given, in a dispute between the same parties, by its own court.

This recycling of a carved-out subject-matter, via the enforcement title remains awkward to me, and is a similar back-door entry into BIa as for ex-EU judgments in C-568/20 J v H Limited.

[54] the Court then makes a leap which is reminiscent of its effet utile (safeguarding the overall objectives of the Brussels regime) approach viz anti-suit and arbitration in CJEU West Tankers : ‘the position is different where the award in the terms of which that judgment was entered was made in circumstances which would not have permitted the adoption, in compliance with the provisions and fundamental objectives of that regulation, of a judicial decision falling within the scope of that regulation.’

[59] it lists the two cardinal sins under Brussels I which the award, had it been a judgment covered by the Regulation (but surely it is not!), would have committed: it would have infringed ‘two fundamental rules of that regulation concerning, first, the relative effect of an arbitration clause included in an insurance contract [here the CJEU refers to Assens Havn, GAVC; update 1 December 2022 someone close to the judgment (in a meeting I think but am not sure was subject to Chatham house rules) also referred to the fact that thousands of victims should not be constrained in their remedies as a result of a contract in which they had no part] and, secondly, lis pendens [here, [64] ff, the Court finds the lis pendens conditions would have been met had the two sets of proceedings both been included in the Regulation, GAVC; update 1 December 2022 the same aforementioned person called this an expression of the clean hands principle].’

This whole construction requires a parallel universe being built next to BIa (or it is effectively nonsense, as prof Briggs puts it).

[71] the CJEU formulates an instruction for courts faced with request for arbitral awards:

It is for the court seised with a view to entering a judgment in the terms of an arbitral award to verify that the provisions and fundamental objectives of Regulation No 44/2001 have been complied with, in order to prevent a circumvention of those provisions and objectives, such as a circumvention consisting in the completion of arbitration proceedings in disregard of both the relative effect of an arbitration clause included in an insurance contract and the rules on lis pendens laid down in Article 27 of that regulation

The UK courts not having so verified, [72] ‘a judgment entered in the terms of an arbitral award, such as that at issue in the main proceedings, cannot prevent, under Article 34(3) of Regulation No 44/2001, the recognition of a judgment from another Member State.’ As Gilles Cuniberti notes, this instruction, effectively to arbitral tribunals (for if they ignore them, their award risks becoming unenforceable) to verify lis pendens requirements  is at odds with CJEU Liberato, and an extraordinary extension of the BIa rules to arbitral tribunals.

Thirdly, is it permissible to rely on Article 34(1)’s orde public exception as a ground for refusing recognition or enforcement of a judgment from another Member State, on the basis that such recognition or enforcement (of the Spanish judgment) would disregard the force of res judicata acquired by a domestic arbitral award or a judgment entered in the terms of such an award. Here, the CJEU [74] ff answers that the issue of the force of res judicata acquired by a judgment given previously is already exhaustively dealt with under Articles 34(3) and (4) of Brussels Ia and cannot therefore be resurrected under the ordre public exception.

The judgment is concocted reality, but not one which surprises me as I already indicated in my post on the AG’s Opinion. It is time the EU have a fundamental reflection on its relation with commercial arbitration. Treated with odd deference in the discussions on investor-state dispute settlement (think: CJEU Achmea, Komstroy etc) yet seriously obstructed in the case-law on the Brussels regime.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, ia 2.120.

%d bloggers like this: