Posts Tagged Regulation 1215/2012

Assens Havn. Privity of choice of court in insurance contracts.

The European Court of Justice held last week in C‑368/16, Assens Havn. It confirmed privity of choice of court in the event of subrogation of the victim in the rights of the insured. The victim is not bound by choice of court between insurer and tortfeasor:

At 41: ‘The extension to victims of the constraints of agreements on jurisdiction based on the combined provisions of Articles 13 and 14 of Regulation No 44/2001 could compromise the objective pursued by Chapter II, Section 3, thereof, namely to protect the economically and legally weaker party.

That the CJEU confirms privity of contractual choice of court is no surprise: see most recently Leventis. In the case of insurance contracts the issue is slightly less obvious for unlike in the case of consumers and employees, the legal presumption of weakness often does not represent commercial reality.

Whether the subrogated party can make use of the choice of court clause in the underlying contract was not sub judice in the judgment.

Geert.

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

 

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Leventis. CJEU confirms principle of privity of choice of court under Brussels I.

Yesterday in Case C-436/16 Leventis the Court of Justice summarily confirmed the principle of privity of choice of court under the Brussels I Recast. I have looked at this issue before e.g. when I discussed Refcomp and Profit Sim. The tos and fros between the various parties in the case meant they were acquainted with each other in the courtroom and in arbitration panels. It also meant that actions, settlements etc. between one of them and a third party necessarily impacted commercially on the other.

However the Court of Justice essentially held that such a close, voluntary or not, relationship between the two parties does not mean that a jurisdiction clause in a contract between two companies can be relied upon by the representatives of one of them to dispute the jurisdiction of a court over an action for damages which aims to render them jointly and severally liable for supposedly tortious acts carried out in the performance of their duties. The Court simply noted that the referring national court had given no indication of choice of court made between the parties as to the latter issue, employing the classic (now) Article 25 set of criteria.

Of note is that unlike other cases such as Goldman Sachs v Novo Banco, there did not seem to be any kind of theory in relevant national law which would have led to imputability (or potential to call upon) choice of court to a third party under the given circumstances.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.9.7.

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SCOTUS holding in Bristol-Myers Squibb BMS further restricts personal jurisdiction in State courts.

I have reported before (search tag ‘CSR’ or ‘ATS) on the personal jurisdiction cases in US litigation. The United State Supreme Court this morning held in Bristol-Meyers Squibb, BMS for short. For background see earlier reporting in this post. California was held not to have jurisdiction for claims brought by non-residents. In her dissenting Opinion justice Sotomayor notes the important impact of the ruling, suggesting that a corporation that engages in a nationwide course of conduct cannot now be held accountable in a state court by a group of injured people unless all of those people were injured in the forum State.  Precedent evidently includes Bauman.

Judgment and opinion include many interesting takes on personal jurisdiction and how it should be managed.

Kenneth Argentieri and Yuanyou (Sunny) Yang have an interesting suggestion here, that ‘plaintiffs will continue to develop creative arguments to obtain jurisdiction over defendants in their preferred jurisdictions, for example, by arguing that a corporation’s registration to do business in a state or designation of an agent to accept service in a state constitute consent to the jurisdiction in that state. Circuit and state courts are currently split on this issue, and the United States Supreme Court has not yet ruled on it.’ We are not a the end of the personal jurisdiciton road.

Geert.

 

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Vulture funds (and Yukos) fail in Round 1 against Belgian enforcement regime viz sovereign immunity. No reference to Luxemburg on compatibility of Brussels I with international law.

I have reported earlier on the action of MNL Capital against the Belgian Vulture Fund Act of 12 July 2015 (Offical Gazette here, my EN translation here), on which I have a paper here.

Thank you Quentin Declève for alerting me to the Constitutional Court’s judgment on a related action (where MNL were joined by Yukos) namely against the act of 23 August 2015 which introduced Article 1412quinquies in the Belgian Judicial Code. It is noteworthy that the action against the Act of July has not yet been decided by the Court (that case number, for the aficionados, is 6371), at the least I have not been able to locate any judgment).

As Quentin summarises, as a general rule, Article 1412 quinquies of the Belgian Judicial Code provides that assets located in Belgium that belong to a foreign State are immune from execution and cannot be subject to enforcement proceedings by creditors. Exceptions to that rule are possible if very strict conditions are met: a party wishing to seize the assets belonging to a State needs to obtain a prior authorisation from a judge. This judge will only authorise the seizure if (i) the foreign State has “expressively” and “specifically” consented to the seizure of the assets; (ii) the foreign State has specifically allocated those assets to the enforcement of the claim which gives rise to the seizure; and (iii) the assets are located in Belgium and are allocated to an economic or commercial activity.

The Court has now annulled the word ‘specifically’ but has otherwise left the Act intact. Quentin summarises how the Court found that this proviso is not part of international law on State immunity.

Now, picking up where Quentin left: part of applicants’ arguments relate to Brussels I Recast. The argument is made that Belgium with its Act re-introduces exequatur, now that is has been abolished by the Recast. Belgium’s Government seems to argue that the law relating to seizure has public order character and hence is covered by the ordre public exception of the Brussels I Recast Regulation, and that seizure in Belgium which would go against public international customary law on State immunity, along the same lines would be covered by the ordre public exception of the Recast (para A.5.2, p.6).

The Court (at B.29.1 ff, .34 ff) deals with the Brussels I arguments very very succinctly: it refers to Article 41(1) which other than the substantive requirements of title III, makes recognition and enforcement subject to the law of the State of enforcement. The Court also says enforcement is not entirely obstructed: some of the foreign entities’ assets remain subject to seizure; and there are other ways of enforcement other than seizure. Finally the Court suggests that the Brussels I Recast surely must not be applied in a way which would be incompatible with international customary law. By rejecting the suggestion for a prelimary reference to Luxembourg (suggestion made by the Belgian State, unusually), the Court clearly believes that call is not one that has to be made by Luxembourg. Pitty: that would have been an interesting reference.

Again, NML Capital’s action against the Vulture Fund Act is still ongoing, lest I have missed withdrawal. As I noted in my paper, this Act I believe is wanting on various grounds, including some related to the New York Convention and the Brussels I Recast.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.16, Heading 2.2.16.1.4.

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HanseYachts: A court asked merely to preserve evidence is (probably) not ‘seized’.

This is one for the conflict of laws anoraks. In C-29/16 HanseYachts the Court of Justice held (on 4 May) that an application for proceedings to preserve or establish, prior to any legal proceedings, evidence of facts on which a subsequent action could be based, does not constitute a proceeding within the meaning of (now) Article 32(1) Brussels I. If it had, it would trigger the lis alibi pendens regime of that Article, impacting therefore on any future substantive proceedings.

At 33 the Court defers to the insight into the relevant provisions of French judicial procedure, offered by the French Government: Although there may indeed be a connection between the court seised on the basis of the relevant French Article and the court having jurisdiction to hear the substance of the case with a view to which the measure of inquiry was ordered, the fact remains that such proceedings for the taking of evidence are independent in relation to the substantive procedure which may, if necessary, be brought subsequently. The Court’s ruling however is dependent (at 34) upon the French courts confirming this interpretation of French civil procedure: for the CJEU does not offer final interpretations on internal State law.

Of note is of course also that the Court seized with the substantive procedure, may en parcours de route take measures to preserve evidence etc.: that court would have already been ‘seized’.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.14.1.

 

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An update from the social dumping flightdeck. Saugmandsgaard ØE advises against Ryanair and Crewlink on ‘place where the employee habitually carries out his work’.

Saugmandsgaard ØE this morning Opined in Joined Cases C‑168/16 and C‑169/16, Nogueira et al and Osacar v Ryanair. Reference in the case was made by the Court of Appeal at Mons /Bergen in the Ryanair case I reported on in first instance. The weakest part of that judgment, I noted, was that it looked to the employer’s organisation as the most relevant criterion when deciding upon place of habitual employment. That clearly went against the favor laboris inherent in Article 19 of the Brussels I Recast Regulation.

The Advocate General at 100 in particular agrees with that view. Regular readers will know that I do not tend to paraphrase for the sake of it hence reference is best made to the AG’s Opinion as a whole. In summary:  Saugmandsgaard ØE recalls that CJEU case-law on the matter essentially requires the courts to either identify the ‘place where’ the employee principally carries out his obligations vis-à-vis his employer, or the ‘place from which’ he principally carries out those obligations. The workers at issue were employed as cabin crew on aircraft operated by Ryanair. Those employees performed their work in more than one Member State, namely in Belgium, where the airport of departure (Charleroi) was situated, the Member State of the airport of arrival and any other Member States crossed during the flight.  The AG suggests (at 92) that it is not possible, in such circumstances, to identify a ‘place where’ those employees principally carried out their obligations vis-à-vis their employers, for it is difficult to attach greater weight to the tasks carried out by those employees in the airport of departure, on board the aircraft or in the airport of arrival.

A ‘place from which’ those employees principally carried out their obligations vis-à-vis their employers, however, can be identified.  The referring court had listed a number of factual considerations among which the AG suggests the following as being highly relevant: (97 ff)

First, appellants started and ended their working day at Charleroi Airport. To the AG’s mind, that fact is of overriding importance, which he suggests is confirmed by the Court’s consistent case-law in particular Koelzch and Voogsgeerd.

Second, appellants received the instructions relating to their tasks and organised their work at Charleroi Airport, by consulting their employers’ intranet. (It is on this point that the AG rejects any relevance of the location of organisation of the work schedule by the employer).

Third, the aircraft operated by Ryanair, and on board which appellants worked as cabin staff, were based at Charleroi. Here the AG refers to CJEU case-law that, in the international transport sector, the place where the work tools are located constitutes a relevant indicium for the purposes of determining the place from which the worker principally fulfils his obligations vis-à-vis his employer.

Fourth, appellants were contractually required to live less than one hour from Charleroi Airport. It is noteworthy that this indication refers not to the worker’s actual place of residence but rather to the place of work near which he lives, namely Charleroi Airport in the main proceedings (at 103).

Fifth, the referring court noted that Ryanair and Crewlink jointly had a ‘crew room’ at Charleroi Airport. The existence of an office made available by the employer is another factor the relevance of which has been emphasised in the Court’s case-law. That this is not formally a ‘branch’ of either company, is irrelevant.

Finally, appellants were required to attend Charleroi Airport if they were unfit for work and in the event of disciplinary problems.

The AG points out that on the basis of the criteria, the Court at Mons formally will have to complete the analysis, however he concludes (at 107) that on the basis of the findings of fact communicated by that court in its request for a preliminary ruling, those six indicia unequivocally designate the courts of the place where Charleroi Airport is situated.

A few other issues are worth mentioning. Firstly (at 108) whether the worker is directly employed by Ryanair (Case C‑169/16) or assigned to Ryanair by Crewlink (Case C‑168/16) is irrelevant for the purposes of identifying the place where the work is habitually carried out, within the meaning of Article 19(2)(a) of Regulation No 44/2001. That place, the AG suggests, is independent of the legal link between the worker and the person who benefits from the work done.

Further, the AG suggests that the concept of ‘home base’ has  relevance to the analysis, albeit indirect. ‘Home base’ is a term used in relevant EU civil aviation law. At 109 ff: ‘place where the employee habitually carries out his work’, used in Article 19(2) of Regulation No 44/2001, should not have to depend on a concept in an act of Union law which belongs to a quite different area, namely that of the harmonisation of rules in the civil aviation sector.’ At 116: the relevance of the home base, for the purposes of identifying the place where the contract of employment is habitually carried out, is only indirect. Indeed, it should be taken into account only in so far as it supports the indicia mentioned above as relevant for the purposes of identifying that place.’ (Which it certainly did in casu).

Further and convincingly, the AG emphatically suggests that the nationality of the aircraft is entirely irrelevant for the discussion (118 ff).

Finally, at 73 ff the AG suggests that there ought to be parallel interpretation of the findings on jurisdiction, and the rules on applicable law, among others in the Rome I Regulation. Those rules were not included in the referring court’s request for preliminary ruling.

We have to await the Court’s judgment, of course. However all in al this is a convincing Opinion which, as specifically flagged by the AG (at 101), is instrumental in addressing forum shopping by employers and consequently will be extremely helpful in addressing social dumping in the EU.

Geert.

Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed 2016, Chapter 2, Heading , Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.5.

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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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