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.

The CJEU in Ellmes Property Services. Forum contractus in the case of real estate co-ownership with echoes of De Bloos.

The CJEU held yesterday in C‑433/19 Ellmes Property Services.

On the application of Article 24(1) Brussels Ia rights in rem it confirms Szpunar AG’s Opinion which I discussed here: the erga omnes charachter or not of the rights relied upon needs to be confirmed by the referring court for A24(1) to be engaged.

I suggested the forum contractus analysis was the more exciting one. The Advocate General advised it be determined by the Italian judge following the conflicts method per CJEU 12/76 Tessili v Dunlop, with little help from European harmonisation seeing i.a. as the initial co-ownership agreement dates back to 1978.

The Court held at 39 that the fact that a downstream co-owner was not a party to the co-ownership agreement concluded by the initial co-owners has no effect on there being a contract per A71(a)  BIa, per Ordre des avocats du barreau de Dinant and Kerr

Unlike the AG, however, the CJEU does not hold that the Tessili Dunlop looking over the fence test is required. It comes seemingly uncomplicated to the conclusion of the locus rei sitae as the forum contractus. At 44, yet linking it to the intention of the contractual obligations:

It seems that that obligation is thus intended to ensure the peaceful enjoyment of the property subject to co-ownership by the owner of that property. Subject to verification by the referring court, that obligation relates to the actual use of such property and must be performed in the place in which it is situated.

This may however harbour more uncertainty than first meets the eye. The CJEU here seems to suggest the original contractually designed ‘peaceful enjoyment by the owner’ , which indicates the contractual performance as being one of ‘actual use’ as determining the forum contractus.  A claim relating to a more immaterial use of the property, such as arguably letting the property for financial gain, or indeed an intention to divest the property, would in this perception not necessarily be linked to the locus rei sitae – which brings one back to the discussion entertained by the AG: depending on who brings which claim and how that claim is formulated (an echo from De Bloos, whose usefulness is currently sub judice in Wikingerhof), forum contractus will vary.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.6.1 (cited by the AG) and Heading 2.2.11.1.

(Third edition forthcoming February 2021).

Lopesan Touristik v Apollo Principal Finance. Importance of choice of court in lis alibi pendens applications testifies to English courts’ strong support for party autonomy..

Another day and another application for a stay on the basis of Article 30 Brussels Ia. Lopesan Touristik SA v Apollo European Principal Finance Fund III (Dollar A) L.P. & Ors [2020] EWHC 2642 (Comm) engages a Sale and Purchase Agreement (SPA) between Lopesan as seller and Spanish company Oldavia as buyer, for Lopesan’s interest in the Buenaventura hotel in Spain. The Hotel is owned by Creative Hotel Buenaventura SAU.

Oldavia is a special purpose vehicle through which Apollo, who are private equity interests, acquired the Hotel for c.€93 million. That funding commitment was reflected in the terms of an Equity Commitment Letter (ECL), under which Apollo promised Oldavia, on the terms and conditions set out in the ECL, to provide it with the funding required to complete the SPA, which obligation was expressly made enforceable by Lopesan under the Contracts (Rights of Third Parties) Act 1999.

The SPA is governed by Spanish law and contains an exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of the Spanish courts. The ECL is governed by English law and contains an exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of the English courts.

Completion did not take place, and there are disputes between Lopesan and Oldavia as to whether Oldavia was or is obliged to complete under the SPA.

On 12 August 2020, Lopesan commenced proceedings against Oldavia in Madrid seeking specific performance of Oldavia’s obligation to complete under the SPA. Parties agree that those proceedings will not be determined for at least 12 months. On 20 August 2020, Lopesan wrote to Apollo seeking confirmations and undertakings intended to ensure that, if the specific performance claim against Oldavia succeeded, Apollo would provide the funds to Oldavia to allow completion to occur. Apollo disputed that Oldavia was under any obligation to complete, and as a result that it was under any corresponding obligation to put Oldavia in funds to enable it to complete.

On 15 September 2020 Lopesan then issued proceedings seeking to enforce its rights as a third party beneficiary under the ECL by way of an order for specific performance of Apollo’s obligation to put Oldavia in funds. Lopesan also issued an application for a speedy trial of that action to ensure judgment was delivered before 1 January 2021: there is a potential argument that Apollo’s obligations will lapse on 1 January 2021, even if, before that date, Oldavia came under a legal obligation to complete the SPA.

Apollo seek a stay of the proceedings under A30(1) BIa.

At 47 Foxton J refers to the Privatbank /EuroEco discussion which he summarises as ‘whether actions are related for the purposes of A30 only when the actions can in fact be heard and determined together, or whether actions are related where they would be heard and determined together but for some external factor (such as exclusive jurisdiction agreements or subject-matter limits on the jurisdiction of a particular court) which prevents this.’ Effective v theoretical hearing together, in other words. He sides with Privatbank but also accepts, with reference to Privatbank, that a practical inability to achieve an outcome where both cases are heard and determined together will be a factor which weighs against granting a stay as a matter of the discretion which Article 30 grants the judge, and that “absent some strong, countervailing factor, the fact that proceedings cannot be consolidated and heard together will be a compelling reason for refusing a stay”.

Further, and with reference to The Alexandros and to Generali v Pelagic Fisheries, where the factor which prevents the two actions being heard together is an exclusive jurisdiction clause, that of itself will constitute a powerful (although not insuperable) factor against staying proceedings which have been brought in the parties’ chosen jurisdiction pending the determination of proceedings elsewhere. At 50 he holds that this is a factor even when the other proceedings have themselves not been commenced in breach of contract.

At 57 Foxton J points that neither the relatedness of the actions nor that the Spanish court is first seised, are disputed. Relatedness exists given that any issue arising in the English proceedings which concerns the issue of whether Oldavia was obliged to complete the SPA necessarily arises in Spain. He then holds that the degree of relatedness is high and that the Spanish courts have much closer proximity to the subject matter of the case, involving, as it does, issues as to the effect of Covid-19 and the Spanish government’s response to it on a Spanish hotel, and the legal effects of those and other matters on a contract governed by Spanish law. However, at 58, if the English proceedings are stayed, it will not be possible to hear and determine the claims in the English and Spanish proceedings together, given the conflicting exclusive jurisdiction clauses in the ECL and the SPA. The decision (whether on issues of law or fact) in the Spanish proceedings would not be binding in the English proceedings, although if Lopesan fails in the Spanish proceedings, that will in practice be determinative of the English proceedings. Findings of law in the Spanish proceedings will also have a strong evidential value in the English proceedings.

Nevertheless, the significance of the English jurisdiction clause and the practical impossibility to hear the claims together in the Spanish courts, make him decide at 60 ff against a stay. His judgment displays the characteristic support of the English courts and English law for party autonomy: parties have deliberately structured the transaction so that claims under the ECL would be heard in a different jurisdiction to claims under the SPA. Consider his reasoning at 61:

That choice having been made, no doubt for good commercial reasons, and the events which have transpired being a scenario which must have been squarely within the parties’ contemplation, it would take a very strong case to justify staying proceedings brought as of right here pending the outcome of proceedings in another jurisdiction. The closer proximity of the Spanish courts to the dispute, nor its status as the natural forum to determine issues of Spanish law, are not sufficient to justify a stay, both because this must have been obvious to the parties when they put this arrangement in place, and because the parties expressly agreed not to raise any objections to proceedings in England on the ground that proceedings have been brought in an inconvenient forum. I do not suggest that this last factor is determinative or that it precludes an Article 30(1) stay. There is a public, as well as a purely private, interest in avoiding irreconcilable judgments within the Brussels Recast regime. However, the factor that the parties wanted the dispute to be determined in their chosen forum regardless of whether another court might be a more convenient forum is a factor which weighs in the balance against a stay.

A relevant judgment.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law – 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.14.5.
Third edition forthcoming February 2021

 

Philips v TCL. On lis alibi pendens /res judicata, and FRAND proceedings.

In Koninklijke Philips NV v Tinno Mobile Technology Corporation & Ors [2020] EWHC 2553 (Ch) Mann J considers the English side of a licence on  ‘FRAND’ (fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory) terms.  In these English proceedings Philips seek inter alia, a declaration that the terms it has offered are FRAND, or alternatively that FRAND terms be determined. Its injunction claim accepts that the injunction will only come into force if a worldwide FRAND licence is not accepted by TCL, one of the defendants who is seeking the licence. TCL have commenced proceedings in France which, inter alia, seem to seek to have FRAND terms determined. Philips attempted to have those proceedings stayed pursuant to Article 29 Brussels Ia, but that attempt failed, as did an application for a stay under Article 30 BIa. In turn, not surprisingly, TCL seek a stay of the English proceedings, including, crucially, the vacation of a trial date in November which is intended to determine FRAND issues, in favour of its French proceedings pursuant to the same Articles 29 and/or 30 Brussels Ia.

Philips’ claim form says it is for infringement of two of its European patents, corresponding injunction (prohibiting further infringement) and damages or an account of profits, and other ancillary relief.

At 49 in assessing the impact of the French judgment and the scope of its res judicata, Mann J justifiable refers to C-456/11 Gothaer, that it is not just the ‘dispositif’ of a judgment which has res judicata, but also the core reasoning: at 40 of the CJEU judgment: ‘the concept of res judicata under European Union law does not attach only to the operative part of the judgment in question, but also attaches to the ratio decidendi of that judgment, which provides the necessary underpinning for the operative part and is inseparable from it …’

His enquiry of the dispositif and the French judge’s reasoning as well as, to a certain extent, the submissions of the parties, leads Mann J to conclude that the French judge did not hold that the French court was first seized of FRAND proceedings. Instead, she held that the proceedings in England and the proceedings in France did not (for the purposes of A29) have the same subject matter. That means that the question of first seised became irrelevant.

Mann J then holds himself that the English court was first seized of the FRAND issue and consequently has no power under A30 BIa to stay its proceedings. It was suggested in vain by counsel for the defendants that Articles 29 and 30 are not acte clair on the point of new actions arising in an existing action, given a distinction between the word “proceedings” in Article 29 and “actions” in Article 30 at least in the English version of those Articles.

The jurisdictional challenge was rejected and the relief granted.
Geert.
(Handbook of) European Private International Law – 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.14.5.
Third edition forthcoming February 2021.

Weco projects: on Yachts lost at sea, anchor jurisdicton (that’s right), lis alibi pendens, carriage, ‘transport’ and choice of court.

In Weco Projects APS v Piana & Ors [2020] EWHC 2150 (Comm),  Hancock J held on a case involving Brussel Ia’s consumer title, including the notion of contract of ‘transport’, Article 25’s choice of court regime, and anchor jurisdiction under Article 8(1) BIa.

The facts of the case are complex if not necessarily complicated. However the presence of a variety of parties in the chain of events led to litigation across the EU. Most suited therefore to be, as WordPress tell me, the 1000th post on the blog.

For the chain of events, reference is best made to the judgment itself. In short, a Yacht booking note, with choice of court and choice of law was made for the Yacht to be carried from Antigua to Genoa. Reference was also made to more or less identical standard terms of a relevant trade association. A clause was later agreed with the identity of the preferred Vessel to carry out the transfer, followed by subcontracting by way of a Waybill.

The Yacht was lost at sea. Various proceedings were started in Milan (seized first), Genoa and England.

At 21, Hancock J first holds obiter that express clauses in the contract have preference over incorporated ones (these referred to the trade association’s model contract), including for choice of court. Readers will probably be aware that  for choice of law, Rome I has a contested provision on ‘incorporation by reference’, although there is no such provision in BIa.

Next comes the issue of lis alibi pendens. Of particular note viz A31(2) [‘Without prejudice to Article 26, where a court of a Member State on which an agreement as referred to in Article 25 confers exclusive jurisdiction is seised, any court of another Member State shall stay the proceedings until such time as the court seised on the basis of the agreement declares that it has no jurisdiction under the agreement’] is the presence of two prima facie valid but competing exclusive choice of court agreements. Hancock J proceeds to discuss the validity of the English choice of court agreement in particular whether the businessman whose interest in sailing initiated the whole event, can be considered a consumer.

The judge begins by discussing whether the contract concerned is one of mere ‘transport’ which by virtue of A17(3) BIa rules out the consumer title all together. At 37 it is concluded that the contract is indeed one of transport and at 37(8) obiter that freight forwarding, too, is ‘transport’. Hancock J notes the limited use of CJEU authority, including Pammer /Alpenhof. In nearly all of the authority, the issue is whether the contracts at issue concerned more than just transport, ‘transport’ itself left largely undiscussed.

Obiter at 75, with reference to CJEU Gruber and Schrems, and also to Baker J in Ramona v Reliantco, Hancock J holds that Mr Piana had failed to show that the business use of the Yacht was merely negligible.

Following this conclusion the discussion turns to the impact of the UK’s implementation of the EU’s unfair terms in consumer contracts regulations, with counsel suggesting that the impact of these is debatable, in light of A25 BIa’s attempt at harmonising validity of choice of court. Readers will be aware that A25’s attempt at harmonisation is incomplete, given its deference to lex fori prorogati). Hancock J does not settle that issue, holding at 111 that in any event the clause is not unfair viz the UK rules.

Next follows the Article 8(1) discussion with reference to CJEU CDC and to the High Court in Media Saturn. Hancock J takes an unintensive approach to the various conditions: they need to be fulfilled without the court at the jurisdictional stage getting too intensively caught up in discussing the merits. At 139 he justifiably dismisses the suggestion that there is a separate criterion of foreseeability in A8(1). On whether the various claims for negative declaratory relief are ‘so closely connected’, he holds they are on the basis of the factuality of each being much the same and therefore best held by one court. Abuse of process, too, is ruled out per Kolomoisky and Vedanta: at 143: there is no abuse of process in bringing proceedings which are arguable for the purposes of founding jurisdiction over other parties.

(The judgment continues with extensive contractual review of parties hoping to rely on various choice of court provisions in the chain).

Quite an interesting set of Brussels Ia issues.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, big chunks of Chapter 2.

 

 

 

The CJEU in Movic on enforcement of unfair trading practices and the less than abstract determination of ‘civil and commercial’.

I reviewed Szpunar AG’s Opinion in C-73/19 Belgische Staat v Movic BV et al here. The CJEU held this morning. At the time of posting an English version of the judgment was not yet available. The case at issue concerns enforcement of Belgium’s unfair trading act by the public authorities of the Member State. Movic BV of The Netherlands and the others defendants practices ticket touting: resale of tickets for leisure events.

The Court is more succinct than the AG in its analysis yet refers repeatedly to points made by Szpunar AG without itself therefore having to refer to so extensive an analysis.

The fact that a power was introduced by a law is not, in itself, decisive in order to conclude that the State acted in the exercise of State authority (at 52). Neither does the pursuit of the general interest automatically involve the exercise of public powers (at 53). With respect to the authorities’ powers of investigation, it would seem that the Court like the AG reads (at 57) C‑49/12 Sunico as meaning that to exclude proceedings from the scope of ‘civil and commercial matters’, it must be determined, in concreto, whether the public authority uses evidence which it has in its possession as a result of its public powers of investigation, hence putting it in a different position as a person governed by private law in analogous proceedings. Collecting evidence in the same way as a private person or a consumer association could, does not fall within that category (at 58).

Neither the request for penalty payments nor an application for an injunction makes the proceedings drop out off Brussels Ia: both instruments are available to private parties, too. That is not however the case for the observation of continued infringement by mere civil servant oath as opposed to bailiff certification. This, the Court holds like the AG, does amount to exercise of public authority (at 62) however (at 63) that element alone escapes BIA, it does not so taint the other part of the proceedings.

As I noted in my review of first Advocate General Szpunar’s Opinion, the need for highly factual considerations sits uneasily with the Regulation’s expressed DNA of predictability. However this squares with the CJEU case-law on ‘civil and commercial’.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Heading 2, Heading 2.2.

Szpunar AG in Ellmes Property Services. Again, on rights in rem and, more challenging, on forum contractus and the spirit of CJEU De Bloos.

Acte clair is in the eyes of the beholder, I assume. However a confident judge would have sufficient CJEU authority to help them hold on the A24(1) BIa issues in C‑433/19 Ellmes Property Services in which Szpunar AG opined last week. (No EN version available at the time of publication of this post).

Do actions brought by a co-owner seeking to prohibit another co-owner from carrying out changes to his property subject to co-ownership, in particular to its designated use, arbitrarily and without the consent of the other co-owners, concern the assertion of a right in rem? In the negative, is the forum contractus per A7(1)(a) Brussels Ia the location of the property? The less clear issue in my view is the forum contractus element.

The location is Zell am Zee, contested use is, not surprisingly, tourist accomodation. Applicant in the national proceedings is an individual who lives in the apartment building. Defendant is a UK corporation who uses it for short-term lets despite the residential designation assigned to the building as a whole in the co-ownership agreement.

From CJEU authority including C-438/12 Weber v Weber it should be clear that other than the hardcore cases of ownership of real estate, the erga omnes v in personam character of rights in real estate depends on national law. The Advocate General in this respect points out that for the rights of co-owners in the case at issue to be rights in rem, Austrian law would have to be enable them to exercise these rights not just vis-a-vis the other co-owners, but also vis-a-vis third parties such as tenants. Whether this is the case in Austrian law has not been sufficiently explained in the reference, it seems.

For the impact of entry in the land register (where third parties can consult the co-ownership agreement), Szpunar AG reviews and contrasts C‑417/15 Schmidt v Schmidt, and C-630/17 Milivojević v Raiffeisenbank. Mere registration does not always entail erga omnes impact.

The Advocate General reminds us of the overall interpretation of Article 24, including the need for restrictive interpretation, and flags (with reference inter alia to the Handbook, p.73, for which I am, as always, sincerely humbled) that it is not just, or not even so much sound administration of justice which underlies A24. At least partially, Member States’ strategic interests are served by the issues listed in the Article.

Ellmes Property Services does not seem to raise additional issues such as we saw in C-25/18 Kerr. The Austrian courts could have dealt with this on their own, and seeing as the referring judge did not provide the kind of detail for the CJEU to judge, the AG’s suggestion is to leave it up to them to verify the erga omnes character.

That leaves (whether it will be needed depends on what the eventual insight will be on the erga omnes element), the forum contractus under A7(1). Parties differ as to the qualification of the contractual duty: is it a positive one (do!) or a negative one (must not!). The AG opts for the latter, with reference to CJEU 14/76 De Bloos: A7(1) refers to the contractual obligation forming the basis of the legal proceedings. I find the precedent value of De Bloos problematic in light of the many changes that have been made to Article 7 since, and in light of the engineering possibilities it hands to parties.

The AG advises that forum contractus will have to be determined by the Italian judge following the conflicts method per CJEU 12/76 Tessili v Dunlop, with little help from European harmonisation seeing i.a. as the initial co-ownership agreement dates back to 1978.

I am curious to see how far the Court will go in entertaining the issues at stake.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.6.1 (cited by the AG) and Heading 2.2.11.1.

Senior Taxi v Agusta Westland. Again on merits review and anchor defendants.

In Senior Taxi Aereo Executivo LTDA & Ors v Agusta Westland S.p.A & Ors [2020] EWHC 1348 (Comm) Waksman J discusses the same issues which I analysed in my review of Sabbagh v Koury (and he refers to that case at 51 ff). Proceedings arise out of the fatal crash of an Agusta Westland AW 139 twin turbine helicopter on 19 August 2011, during a flight from the Petrobras P-65 offshore oil platform in the Atlantic, west of Rio de Janeiro, to Macae Aerodrome in Brazil.

First and third defendant are an Italian company. Second defendant, AgustaWestland Ltd is an English company and the anchor defendant per A8(1) Brussels IA. At 32:

‘Defendants’ contention is that in order for Article 8 (1) to apply at all, the claim against the anchor defendant must at least be a sustainable one. I described this as “the Merits Test”. For present purposes, the requirement of sustainability can be equated with “viability”, “a real prospect of success”, a “serious issue to be tried” or a “good arguable case”. Neither party sought to argue that any fine point of distinction between these various expressions was relevant here.’

Reisch Montage and Freeport of course are CJEU authority referred to. As is Kolassa for the CJEU consideration of ‘merits review’ (particularly there: taking account of both defendant and claimant’s arguments) under A25 and A26 BIA) and CDC for the CJEU’s most recent proper discussion of the issue (at 86 Waksman J suggest CDC is not a ruling on the merits issue).

At 65 ff Waksman J follows the majority in Kabbagh, and not the dissent of Lady Justice Gloster – I as noted was more enclined to agree with her. Having confessed to his preference for there being a merits test, he then seeks to distinguish the CJEU in Reisch by focusing on the CJEU there finding on the basis of a ‘procedural bar’ in the Member State of the anchor defendant. At 83:

‘I do not find the reasoning of the CJEU here persuasive and I consider that the decision should be distinguished if possible. It can be distinguished because it is very clear from the judgments that the focus was on a national rule as to admissibility of the claim. Even allowing for differences of language, the expression “procedural bar” is not apt to include a lack of any substantive merit. Reisch is not therefore an obstacle to deciding that there is a Merits Test.’

And at 85:

‘that the reasoning of the court in Reisch was concerned more with what it simply saw as an illegitimate incursion of a domestic procedural rule (a bankrupt cannot without more be sued in ordinary litigation) into the operation of Article 6 (1). That, in and of itself decided the point. It was a question of form and not substance. But the Merits Test is a matter of substance.

Held: there is a Merits Test which must be satisfied before A8(1) can be invoked. That merits test is not met in casu.

A8(1)’s ‘so closely connected’ test clearly requires some appreciation of the facts and the legal arguments, as well as a certain amount of taking into account the defendant’s arguments. Yet this in my view does not amount to a merits test, and ‘sustainability’, “viability”, “a real prospect of success”, a “serious issue to be tried” or a “good arguable case” may well be synonyms – but there are not the same as an A8(1) merits test.

One to watch upon appeal.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.12.1

Nigeria v Shell et al at the High Court. Yet more lis alibi pendens and cutting some corners on case-management.

One does not often see Nigeria sue Shell. Federal Republic of Nigeria v Royal Dutch Shell Plc & Anor [2020] EWHC 1315 (Comm) engages Article 29 Brussels Ia’s lis alibi pendens rule in a period in which (see other posts on the blog) the High Court intensely entertained that section of Brussels Ia. Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDS) is the anchor defendant for the other EU-domiciled defendants. Quite a few of the defendants are not domiciled in the EU.

The case concerns Nigerian allegations that monies paid by it under an earlier settlement following alleged expropriation, which had led to bilateral investment treaty arbitration under ICSID rules, had been channeled to pay bribes. Nigeria is pursuing the case in the criminal courts in Italy, too.

Nigeria therefore are already pursuing claims in Italy to obtain financial relief against 4 of the defendants including the anchor defendant. Defendants contend that those claims are the same claims as the English ones and that the court should decline jurisdiction in respect of those claims pursuant to A29 BIa. Defendants then further contend that, if the court so declines jurisdiction over the claims against RDS and Eni SpA, the entire proceedings should be dismissed. This is because RDS is the ‘anchor defendant’ under A8(1) BIa in the case of three of the EU-domiciled defendants and under English CPR rules against the other defendants. In the alternative to the application under Article 29, Defendants seek a stay of the proceedings under A30 BIa (related cases) or, in the further alternative as a matter of case management, pending a final determination, including all appeals, of the claim that the FRN has brought in Italy.

Butcher J refers at 41 to the UKSC in The Alexandros, and to Rix J in Glencore International AG v Shell International Trading and Shipping Co Ltd, at 110: ‘broadly speaking, the triple requirement of same parties, same cause and same objet entails that it is only in relatively straightforward situations that art [29] bites, and, it may be said, is intended to bite. After all, art [30] is available, with its more flexible discretionary power to stay, in the case of ‘related proceedings’ which need not involve the triple requirement of art [29]. There is no need, therefore, as it seems to me, to strain to fit a case into art [29].’

Same parties. Per CJEU The Tatry A29 applies to the extent to which the parties before the courts second seised are parties to the action previously commenced. Butcher J correctly holds that the fact that there may be other parties to the second action does not prevent this. Nigeria nevertheless argue that the involvement of the Italian Public Prosecutor in the Italian case, and not in the English case, and its crucial role in the Italian proceedings, means that the proceedings nevertheless are not between the ‘same parties’. Defendants call upon CJEU C-523/14 Aertssen to counter this: there BE and NL proceedings were considered to be caught by A29 even though the BE proceedings concerned criminal proceedings and the Dutch did not.

At 47 Butcher J holds that the prosecutor is not a ‘party’ in the A29 sense and that even it were, it is nevertheless clear from The Tatry that there does not have to be complete identity of the parties to the two proceedings for Article 29 to be applicable. (Ditto Leech J in Awendale v Pixis).

Same cause of action. Nigeria accept that there is no material difference in the facts at issue in the two proceedings, however contends that the legal basis of its claim in England is different.

Butcher J refers to Lord Clarke in The Alexandros, that in order to consider same cause of action, one must look ‘at the basic facts (whether in dispute or not) and the basic claimed rights and obligations of the parties to see if there is coincidence between them in the actions in different countries, making due allowance for the specific form that proceedings may take in one national court with different classifications of rights and obligations from those in a different national court’. Doing that, at 55 he holds that these basic claimed rights in the IT and EN proceedings, which he characterises as being the right not to be adversely affected by conduct of RDS which involves or facilitates the bribery and corruption of the FRN’s ministers and agents, and the right to redress if there is such bribery and corruption’, are the same.

That seems to me an approach which is overly reliant on the similarity of underlying facts. (At 70, obiter, Butcher J splits the claims and suggests he would have held on a narrower similarity of cause of action for some claims and not the others, had he held otherwise on ‘same cause of action’; and at 80 that he would have ordered a stay under Article 30 or on case management grounds on the remainder of the action).

Same object. Nigeria contend that its present proceedings do not have the same objet as the civil claim in the Italian proceedings. It contends that the only claim made in the Italian proceedings is for monetary damages, while in the English action claims are also made of a declaration of entitlement to rescind the April 2011 Agreements, other declaratory relief, an account of profits and tracing remedies.

Butcher J disagrees. Per Lord Clarke in The Alexandros, he holds that to have the same object, the proceedings must have the ‘same end in view’, per CJEU Aertssen at 45 interpreted ‘broadly’. At 61; ‘that ‘end in view’ is to obtain redress for RDS’s alleged responsibility for bribery and corruption…. Further, it is apparent that a key part of the redress claimed in the English proceedings is monetary compensation, which is the (only) relief claimed in the Italian proceedings. On that basis I consider that the two sets of proceedings do have the same objet.’

That the English action also seeks to rescind the original 2011 agreements is immaterial, he finds, for RDS were not even part to those proceedings. Moreover, that aim included in the English action serves to support the argument that if the two sets of proceedings go ahead, (at 64) ‘there would be the possibility of the type of inconsistent decisions which Article 29 is aimed at avoiding’. ‘If the English proceedings were regarded as involving a significantly different claim, namely one relating to rescission, and could go ahead, that would give rise to the possibility of a judgment in one awarding damages on the basis of the validity of the April 2011 Agreements and the other finding that those Agreements were capable of rescission. That would appear to me to be a situation of where there is effectively a ‘mirror image’ of the case in one jurisdiction in the other,..’

At 66 ff Butcher J adopts the to my mind correct view on the application of A29 to proceedings with more than one ‘objet’: one does not look at all claims holistically, one has to adopt a claim by claim approach, in line with CJEU The Tatry. At 68: ‘Difficulties which might otherwise arise from the fragmentation of proceedings can usually be addressed by reference to Article 30..’

At 71 he then concludes that the stay must be granted, and that he has no discretion not to do so once he finds that the conditions of A29 are fulfilled. He also holds that with the case against the anchor defendant stayed, A8(1) falls away. He appreciates at 72 that this may expose Nigeria to limitation issues in the Italian proceedings, however those are of their own making for they were under no obligation to sue in Italy.

 

At 74 ff Article 30 is considered obiter, and Butcher J says he would have stayed under A29. At 77 he notes the continuing debate on the difference at the Court of Appeal between Privatbank and Euroeco. At 75(2) he summarises the distinction rather helpfully as

‘In the Kolomoisky case, it was decided that the word ‘expedient’ in the phrase ‘it is expedient to hear and determine them together’ which appears in Article 28.3 of the Lugano Convention (as it does in Article 30.3 of the Regulation), is more akin to ‘desirable’ that the actions ‘should’ be heard together, than to ‘practicable or possible’ that the actions ‘can’ be heard together: paras. [182]-[192]. In the Euroeco Fuels case, having referred to the Kolomoisky case, the Court of Appeal nevertheless appears to have proceeded on the basis that the court had no discretion to order a stay under Article 30 when there was no real possibility of the two claims being heard together in the same foreign court’

At 75(5) he then without much ado posits that

‘In any event, even if not under Article 30, there should be a stay under the Court’s case management powers, and in particular pursuant to s. 49(3) Senior Courts Act 1981 and CPR 3.1(2)(f). Such a stay would not, in my judgment, be inconsistent with the Regulation, and is required to further the Overriding Objective in the sense of saving expense, ensuring that cases are dealt with expeditiously and fairly, and allotting to any particular case an appropriate share of the Court’s resources. Given that the Italian proceedings are well advanced, and that after the determination of the Italian proceedings English proceedings may well either be unnecessary or curtailed in scope, there appear good grounds to consider that a stay of the English proceedings will result in savings in costs and time, including judicial time.’

Whether such case-management stay under CPR 3.1(2)(f) is at all compatible with the Regulation in claims involving EU domicileds, outside the context of Articles 29-34 is of course contested and, following Owusu, in my view improbable.

Most important lis alibi pendens considerations at the High Court these days.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law – 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.14.5.