Posts Tagged Regulation 1215/2012

Asymmetric clauses, exclusivity, torpedoes and lis alibi pendens: The High Court in Commerzbank v Liquimar Tankers.

Many of the issues in [2017] EWHC 161 (Comm) Commerzbank v Liquimar Tankers were also raised in Perella v Codere,  albeit there, as I reported, obiter. In current case, they were very much dicta, and they amount to the English courts viewing (properly constructed) asymmetric clauses as being exclusive. As such they fall under the new anti-torpedo provisions of Article 31(2).

Applications of defendants Liquimar Tankers (registered in Liberia but with head office in Athens) are being made in the course of proceedings in London by Commerzbank  in two separate actions in relation to the repayment of loans which the Bank extended for the building of a number of ships. There are ongoing proceedings taken by the defendants against the Bank in Piraeus, Greece concerning the same and/or related issues.

The Liquimar guarantee contained a governing law and an asymmetric jurisdiction clause, which was essentially similar in the other loan agreements. It provided:

“16 Law and Jurisdiction

16.1 This Guarantee and Indemnity shall in all respects be governed by and interpreted in accordance with English law.

16.2 For the exclusive benefit of the Lender, the Guarantor irrevocably agrees that the courts of England are to have jurisdiction to settle any disputes which may arise out of or in connection with this Guarantee and Indemnity and that any proceedings may be brought in those courts.

16.3 Nothing contained in this Clause shall limit the right of the Lender to commence any proceedings against the Guarantor in any other court of competent jurisdiction nor shall the commencement of any proceedings against the Guarantor in one or more jurisdictions preclude the commencement of any proceedings in any other jurisdiction, whether concurrently or not.

16.4 The Guarantor irrevocably waives any objection which it may now or in the future have to the laying of the venue of any proceedings in any court referred to in this Clause and any claim that those proceedings have been brought in an inconvenient or inappropriate forum, and irrevocably agrees that a judgment in any proceedings commenced in any such court shall be conclusive and binding on it and may be enforced in the courts of any jurisdiction …”.

 

Article 31(2) of the Brussels I Recast reads:

‘where a court of a Member State on which an agreement as referred to in Article 25 confers exclusive jurisdiction is seized, any court of another Member State shall stay the proceedings until such time as the court seized on the basis of the agreement declares that it has no jurisdiction under the agreement.’

Cranston J held that the concept of ‘exclusivity’ should be autonomously interpreted under the Brussels I (Recast) regime. He did not however refer for preliminary reference to the CJEU: as such, the High Court’s finding continues to be vulnerable until we have precedent from Luxembourg. The judgment as a whole is worth a read – readers in for concise summary, please refer to Herbert Smith’s analysis.

Summing up is done in para 70, with justifiable emphasis on parties’ and the Regulation’s intentions (but as noted with considerable reference to precedent and principles of statutory interpretation): Thus with the asymmetric jurisdiction clauses in the present case, the defendants agreed to sue only in the courts of one EU Member State, England. Instead, they have enabled another court, the Greek court, to be seized of the matter. It would undermine the agreements of the parties, and foster abusive tactics, if the jurisdiction clauses in these agreements were to be treated not as exclusive, but as non-exclusive.’ 

Of note is also the discussion on the role of recitals (eg. at 69; also at 77 ff). Justice Cranston’s arguments are supported by reference to a number of recitals. Defendant in my view has a valid point in principle where they argue at 77 that ‘a recital cannot constitute a rule when it is not reflected in the words of Article 31(2).‘ (Although they were wrong on substance).

A subsidiary argument in the case also merits further attention. Defendants argue that Article 25 requires the parties to have designated the courts of a Member State to enable the law applicable to the substantive validity of a jurisdiction clause to be identified and to provide certainty as to the forum in which a putative defendant can expect to be sued. That, they submit, is not achieved by a clause which designates the courts of all other competent states, including those of non-Member States, outside the territorial competence of the EU, which could mean suits in multiple jurisdictions. Although the argument could be phrased more precisely, I do agree with it: in the absence of a nominatim lex contractus for the choice of court clause specifically, the new lex fori prorogati rule in Article 25 Brussels I Recast, combined with recital 20 (yet again the troublesome habit of EU private international law to include substantive rules in recitals only) does create a vacuum in the case of hybrid, asymmetric or even non-exclusive choice of court.

An important case. Not the last we have heard of the issues.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Ch.2, Heading 2.2.9, Heading 2.2.9.4.1, Heading 2.2.9.5.

 

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AMT v Marzillier: UK Supreme Court sides with relucant Court of Appeal on inducement to breach choice of court agreement.

I reported on AMT V Marzillier at the High Court, failed to flag its overturn in the Court of Appeal (it’s the Easter period: I am in a confessionary mood), and now report swiftly on the Supreme Court confirming the Court of Appeal’s view early April ([2017] UKSC 13).

MMGR is a company incorporated under the laws of Germany and carries on business as a firm of lawyers in Germany. AMTF alleges that MMGR induced its former clients to issue proceedings against it in Germany and to advance causes of action under German law.  AMTF’s clients were referred to it by ‘introducing brokers’; AMTF in turn is referred to as a non-advisory, “execution only”, derivatives broker. AMTF charged its clients commission for its service and paid commission to the introducing brokers. About 70 former clients, who were dissatisfied with the financial results of their transactions, commenced legal proceedings in Germany against both the introducing brokers and AMTF seeking damages under the German law of delict. The claim against the introducing brokers was that they had given bad investment advice or had failed to warn of the risks of the investments. The claim against AMTF was based on a liability which was accessory to that of the brokers: it was alleged that AMTF had encouraged the brokers to behave as they did by paying them commission from the transaction accounts which it operated for its clients and that it owed and had breached a duty in delict (tort) to the clients to prevent any transactions being undertaken contrary to their interests. AMTF challenged the jurisdiction of the German court. Many of the former clients have recovered damages from AMTF by way of settlement.

AMTF argues that the actions in Germany were in breach of the exclusive jurisdiction and applicable law clauses in their contracts with AMTF. It commenced proceedings in the High Court in London against MMGR, based on the tort, in English law, of inducing breach of contract. It seeks both damages and injunctive relief to restrain MMGR from inducing clients to bring further claims in Germany asserting causes of action under German law. AMTF argues that the English courts have jurisdiction over its claim under article 5.3 of the Brussels I Regulation (Article 7(2) in the Brussels I Recast), which gives jurisdiction in tort claims to the courts for the place in which the harmful event occurred or may occur. MMGR challenges the jurisdiction of the English courts to entertain this action.

Popplewell J in the High Court sided with AMTF – I reviewed his judgment in 2014. He decided that the relevant harm which gives rise to jurisdiction under article 5.3 occurred in England as AMTF had in each case been deprived of the benefit of the exclusive jurisdiction clause, which, he held, created a positive obligation on a former client to bring proceedings in England.

Clarke LJ concluded upon Appeal that the English courts did not have jurisdiction as the relevant harm had occurred in Germany. At 57 he wrote ‘I do not reach this conclusion with any great enthusiasm since there is much to be said for the determination of what is in essence an ancillary claim in tort for inducement of breach of contract to be made in the court which the contract breaker agreed should have exclusive jurisdiction in respect of that contract, rather than in the courts of the country where the inducement and breach occurred. But the governing law of the relationship between the former clients and AMTF (which did not have to be that of England & Wales) is not a determining factor in the allocation of jurisdiction under the Regulation.‘ It is not entirely clear what the German courts’ view is on the matter – the unsettled claims were still pending at the time of the Supreme Court’s judgment.

Lord Hodge, after noting the CA’s reluctance, agrees with its conclusion and does so by once again, concisely yet completely, reviewing the CJEU’s case-law on Article 5(3) [7(2)]. For an even more condensed version, see Jake Hardy. At 24: ‘The task for the court is to identify where the relevant harm occurred. That is relatively straightforward in most circumstances, where there is no need for any special rule such as those which the CJEU has developed when it has not been possible readily to identify one place where that harm occurred. It is straightforward in this case.‘ : namely Germany. ‘It is clear that AMTF did not get the benefit of having any dispute with the former clients determined under English law by English courts. But the former clients were under no positive obligation to sue AMTF, which could have no objection if it was not sued.’ (at 25).

Of note is Lord Hoge’s important emphasis (at 29) that the benefits of connecting factors, which justify the ground of jurisdiction, are not in and of themselves connecting factors. Idem for his instruction at 30 that ‘the inconvenience, which the separation of the resolution of the contractual claims against the former clients from the pursuit of the claims against MMGR entails, (does not) carry much weight when one considers the aims of the Judgments Regulation‘: ‘the CJEU has recognised that the scheme of the Judgments Regulation creates the difficulty that one jurisdiction may not be able to deal with all the related points in a dispute (at 32).

Finally reference to the CJEU was refused on the grounds that the issue is acte claire (at 43, with preceding reference to CJEU precedent).

Delightful.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2, 2.2.11.2.7).

 

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On ‘civil and commercial’, and, again, notaries as courts. The CJEU in Pula Parking.

Issued on the same day as Zulfikarpašić, Pula Parking Case C-551/15 deals with similar core issues, with a few extras thrown in. Pula Parking, a company owned by the town of Pula (Croatia), carries out, pursuant to a decision of the mayor of that town, the administration, supervision, maintenance and cleaning of the public parking spaces, the collection of parking fees and other related tasks. In September 2010, Mr Tederahn, who is domiciled in Germany, parked his vehicle in a public parking space of the town of Pula. Pula Parking issued Mr Tederahn with a parking ticket. Since Mr Tederahn did not settle the sums due within the period prescribed, Pula Parking lodged, on 27 February 2015, with a notary whose office is in Pula, an application for enforcement on the basis of an ‘authentic document’. A notary issued a writ of execution on 25 March 2015, on the basis of that document.  In his opposition, Mr Tederahn put forward a plea alleging that the notary who issued the writ of execution of 25 March 2015 did not have substantive and territorial jurisdiction on the ground that that notary did not have jurisdiction to issue such a writ on the basis of an ‘authentic document’ from 2010, against a German national or a citizen of any other EU Member State.

Does the Brussels I recast apply at all? And does it relate also to the jurisdiction of notaries in the Republic of Croatia?

On the temporal scope of the Brussels I Recast, the Court repeats its (Brussels Convention) Sanicentral (Case 25/79) finding: the only necessary and sufficient condition for the scheme of the Regulation to be applicable to litigation relating to legal relationships created before its entry into force is that the judicial proceedings should have been instituted subsequently to that date. Accession timing is irrelevant to the case: per C-420/07 Apostolides the Act of Accession of a new Member State is based essentially on the general principle that the provisions of EU law apply ab initio and in toto to that State, derogations being allowed only in so far as they are expressly laid down by transitional provisions.

On the substantial scope of the Brussels I Recast Regulation, for the issue of ‘civil and commercial’ the Court refers to its standing case-law (particularly most recently Aertssen and Sapir). In casu, it would seem (the national court is asked to confirm) that the parking debt claimed by Pula Parking is not coupled with any penalties that may be considered to result from a public authority act of Pula Parking and is not of a punitive nature but constitutes, therefore, mere consideration for a service provided. Brussels I applies.

However, notaries in casu do not act as courts: in a twin approach with Zulfikarpašić, the Court holds that the writ of execution based on an ‘authentic document’, issued by the notary, is served on the debtor only after the writ has been adopted, without the application by which the matter is raised with the notary having been communicated to the debtor. (at 58) Although it is true that debtors have the opportunity to lodge oppositions against writs of execution issued by notaries and it appears that notaries exercise the responsibilities conferred on them in the context of enforcement proceedings based on an ‘authentic document’ subject to review by the courts, to which notaries must refer possible challenges, the fact remains that the examination, by notaries, in Croatia, of an application for a writ of execution on such a basis is not conducted on an inter partes basis.

Geert.

European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.16.1.1. Chapter 6, Heading 6.2.1.

 

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Lodi Trading, a lotta fog: Kolassa in the Belgian Supreme Court.

Many thanks Michael Verhaeghe  (whom I have the pleasure with jointly to be representing a client) for alerting me to Lodi Trading in which the Belgian Supreme Court applied (and distinguished) Kolassa. Lodi Trading is registered in The Netherlands and seemingly had been duped into transferring funds to a gang of fraudsters.  As always, the judgment is very very scant on factual reference, and I have not been able to find the Court of Appeals’ judgement: if anyone can: Court of Appeal Gent, 8 December 2015.

Like the CJEU itself did clearly in Universal Music, the Hof van Cassatie distinguished Kolassa (although it does not refer to Universal Music in this part of the judgment) by insisting there be circumstances specific to the case, over and above the simple presence of a bank account, which point to the damage occurring in that State.

In Universal Music the CJEU had emphasised the need for case-specific facts for bank accounts to be a relevant factor in determining jurisdiction, by holding that ‘it is only where the other circumstances specific to the case also contribute to attributing jurisdiction to the courts for the place where a purely financial damage occurred, that such damage could, justifiably, entitle the applicant to bring the proceedings before the courts for that place.’ (emphasis added).

What seems (but again: see the joint caveat of the Supreme Court’s judgment being scant and the Court of Appeal’s judgment being untraceable) to be specific to this case is that the Court of Appeal had held in favour of the location of the bank account of recipient of the funds being locus damni, given that ‘internal law’ (by which I take it reference is made to Belgian, not Dutch law) determines that the time of payment is determined by the moment of accreditation of the funds to the beneficiary’s account: not (the alternative reading; but again I am assuming for the judgment’s 10 brief paras do invite speculation) the time of the funds leaving the account holder’s account.

It could well be therefore that the Supreme Court is rebuking the Court of Appeal for having Belgian law enter the equation, given the need for autonomous interpretation of European civil procedure. But I am not entirely sure.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Headings 2.2.11.2, 2.2.11.2.7

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Siemens: Debt arising from the unjustified repayment (by the authorities) of a fine for infringement of competition law excluded from Brussels I.

The Court held in C-102/15 Siemens just before mine and their summer break. It had escaped my attention. At issue was whether debt arising from the unjustified repayment of a fine for infringement of competition law falls within the scope of application of the Brussels I Recast. It does not. The Court distinguished flyLAL: while private actions brought to ensure compliance with competition law fall within the scope of the Regulation, a penalty imposed by an administrative authority in the exercise of the regulatory powers conferred upon it under national legislation comes within the concept of ‘administrative matters’, excluded from the scope of Regulation No 44/2001 in accordance with Article 1(1) thereof.(at 35).

An action in unjust enrichment related to the interest due, following to and fro, imposition and rescinding, ending finally in confirmation of the fine, is intimately bound up with that fine and therefore follows it in the exclusion.

A judgment of note for those who wish to keep complete overview.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.2.2 ff.

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Assymetric jurisdiction clauses. Their existence and (obiter) their neutralising effect in Perella v Codere.

Apologies for late posting. I had tweeted and linked and done all sorts of other things when the judgment came out but as readers tell me, that is not quite the same as a review on this blog.

Walker J decided Peralla v Codere [2016] EWHC 1182 (Comm) at the end of July. His views on Article 25 and exclusivity in the event of asymmetric jurisdiction clauses, are very much dicta. On their neutralising effect under Article 31, he suggested obiter. Let me explain. The jurisdiction clause which Perella alleged to have been breached by Codere comprises a single sentence of a clause of their letter of engagement. That sentence states:

“[Codere] agrees for the benefit of [Perella] that the courts of England wil have non-exclusive jurisdiction to settle any dispute which may arise in connection with this engagement.”

Codere sued in Spain alleging breach of contract. Perella countersues in England. The English proceedings are very much necessitated by one or two awkward consequences of the wording of Article 31 of the Brussels I Recast. This Article was specifically included to neutralise the torpedo which the Court of Justice had armed in its Gasser judgment, C-116/02: following Gasser, lis alibi pendens applies even if there is exclusive choice of court and a court other than the court assigned in that clause, has been seized. The Brussels I Recast neutralises the torpedo but only if there is exclusive court of choice, and if the court designated by that clause has been seized.

The first consideration in the case was whether the clause was exclusive. It was pertinently not. Perella suggested the language indicates that the benefit to be conferred upon Perella is an entitlement to insist that Codere must regard itself as bound by the exclusive jurisdiction of the English courts. Walker J (at 30) rejects this justifiably: it would have been simplicity itself verbatim to indicate exclusivity. As Ken Kaar notes, the inclusion of ‘for the benefit of’ is an old, now redundant boilerplate provision in choice of court: in the original Brussels and Lugano Conventions, ‘If the agreement conferring jurisdiction was concluded for the benefit of only one of the parties, that party shall retain the right to bring proceedings in any other court which has jurisdiction by virtue of this Convention.’ This proviso meant there was plenty of discussion in court whether only one party had procured such benefit, lest one state in so many words that it had. The current version of the Brussels I Recast (and the 2001 version before it) and Lugano 2007 have both dropped the provision, and it would be best dropped from the boilerplate clause, too.

Having held that the clause was not exclusive, the Court could have stopped there. Obiter however Walker J offered his view on whether Article 31(2)’s protection extends to asymmetric choice of court clauses – the notion of which I have reported on before. Walker J (at 18) suggests that it does. The party invoking Article 31(2) pointing to an exclusive forum which the counterparty who is suing elsewhere, had committed itself to, need not be itself subject to a symmetric duty only to sue in that court. The point has not been argued before the CJEU yet, but I agree that the High Court’s position is the correct one, with the important caveat of course that such clause needs to be valid in accordance with the lex fori prorogati. This also means that asymmetric clauses where such lex cannot be identified, would have trouble disarming the recalcitrant party’s torpedo.

Well, we are going to miss this type of judgment following Brexit. Better make conflict of laws part of the continuing relations with the UK.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Ch.2, Heading 2.2.9, Heading 2.2.9.4.1, Heading 2.2.9.5.

 

 

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Schmidt v Schmidt: CJEU confirms Kokott AG’s views on forum rei sitae & forum connexitatis in Brussels I Recast.

Much as expected, the Court has this week confirmed Kokott AG’s views on Article 24(1) and Article 8(4) Brussels I Recast, in C-417/15 Schmidt v Schmidt. Please refer to my review of the Advocate General’s Opinion for detail of the case.

A request for voidance of a contract of gift of immovable property, on grounds of incapacity, is not covered by Article 24(1). The fact that the contract for which a declaration of invalidity is sought concerns immovable property is irrelevant to the issue of its validity, the immovable nature of the subject matter of the contract being only of marginal significance in that context (at 36). This does not endanger the ratio legis of Article 24(1): by ruling on the request for the avoidance of a contract of gift on the ground of the donor’s incapacity to contract, the court before which the dispute is brought is not required to carry out investigations strictly related to the immovable property concerned so as to justify an application of the rule of exclusive jurisdiction provided for in that article (at 37). In the present case, the action in the main proceedings is based on the alleged invalidity of the contractual obligation consisting of the conveyance of ownership of the immovable property, which, provided that the contract is valid, must be, and which was initially, performed in Austria. This therefore establishes jurisdiction for that court on the basis of Article 7(1) a of the Brussels I Recast.

The separate request for removal from the land register of the donee’s right of ownership, in turn is based on the invalidity of the conveyance of ownership and, therefore, on the right in rem relied on by the applicant in the main proceedings in the immovable property concerned:this action is covered by Article 24(1). This latter court may also rule on the request for voidance: there is a connection between the claims pursuant to Article 8(4) of Regulation 1215/2012. Unlike the AG, the CJEU does not add that this possibility for joinder must not be abused, however there is no reason why the prohibition of abuse must not apply to Article 8(4). Given the possibility of joinder, a race to court of course is triggered between, in this case, father and daughter.

Schmidt v Schmidt is once again a useful reminder for courts and notaries alike, not to shy away from contracts, gifts, matrimonial property etc. simply because it involves real estate located elsewhere. Plenty of the legal issues surrounding such constructions can be perfectly dealt with outside the locus rei sitae.

Geert.

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