Posts Tagged Rome I
Dana Gas v Deutsche Bank et al. Islamic financing. Interest v usury (riba). Depecage, von Munchausen and overriding mandatory law. Partial unenforceability. All in the face of anti-suit.
In  EWHC 2928 (Comm) Dana Gas v Deutsche Bank et al., Leggatt J treats his readers to a concise insight into islamic finance (particularly in para 10) which he needs to do to inform readers of the essence of the case. The operation essentially involves raising investment (with a view to restructuring), organised by the main agreement (of the ‘Mudarabah’ type), subject to UAE law, and supported by a purchase undertaking of the same date, subject to English law. The set-up therefore evidently is not one of dépeçage per se (this would require one and the same agreement being subject to different laws) however it comes close.
Inevitably following unfavourable market conditions, an anti-suit injunction was sought and obtained in the UAE, followed however by English proceedings which required the aint-suit to be lifted – something which Dana Gas did not succeed in as a result of shareholder opposition. The English proceedings were effectively saved from collapse by the involvement of a third party, BlackRock, who as a non-party to the UAE sharia proceedings, were not bound by the anti-suit injunction. The somewhat complicated result is that the English proceedings really can only limp along.
Dana Gas seek confirmation that the transaction is unlawful and all the relevant contractual obligations are unenforceable as a matter of UAE law. Leggatt J with neither emotion nor hesitation refers essentially to Rome I’s universal application: the Mudarabah agreement is subject to UAE law and he is happy to assume it is invalid under UAE law – hence not enforceable by an English court. See in this respect Article 10(1) Rome I.
That however leaves the viability of the purchase undertaking. (at 46) The fact in and of itself that the contract or its performance would be regarded as invalid or unlawful under the law of some other country than England (for example, a country where one of the parties is domiciled or carries on business) is generally speaking irrelevant (reference is made to Kleinwort, Sons & Co v Ungarische Baumwolle Industrie AG  2 KB 678.
At 48, Dana Gas sets out its case for unenforceability of the purchase agreement under English law. This includes reference to ordre public but also inevitably an attempt to ‘contaminate’ the purchase agreement with the Mudarabah agreement. Leggatt J justifiably turns this around: at 54: it is apparent from the purchase agreement’s terms that the risks against which the Purchase Undertaking is intended to protect the Certificateholders include the risk that the mudarabah and the transaction documents governed by UAE law will turn out to be invalid. That is why they needed to be separated. (In that respect merging the two agreements into one and applying dépeçage might give even stronger force to this argument: however I do not know whether under UAE law such construction would be acceptable).
Further arguments swept aside, the Court turns to ordre public.
Dana Gas nb had employed both ordre public and, earlier Article 9(3) Rome I: overriding mandatory law: a rare treat indeed. Relevant English precedent is Ralli Brothers: Ralli Brothers v Cia Naviera Sota y Aznar  1 KB 614: an English court will not enforce an obligation which requires a party to do something which is unlawful by the law of the country in which the act has to be done. Rome’s Article 9(3) operates in a similar context. However Dana Gas later abandoned that claim for (at 80) those rules of law are only applicable if and in so far as the obligations in question have to be performed in the UAE – quod non.
A switch was then made to ordre public, now with Foster v Driscoll  1 KB 470 as leading precedent. However, here too, it is only if a contract has as its object and intention the performance in a friendly foreign country of an act which is illegal under the law of that country that the contract will be considered (at 82 in fine) contrary to English public policy.
Conclusion: the Purchase Undertaking is valid and enforceable.
Without claiming anything near proper competence in Islamic finance law, it would seem that Dana Gas does not introduce new principles in that area. However in diligently applying conflicts analysis, Leggatt J in my view does practice a great service: he re-emphasises the need for parties clearly to identify locus implementi: the place of performance of an obligation. When obligations are marked out for a seperate lex causae, such clear identification of place of performance will insulate them from collapse.
(Handbook) of Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016: essentially, almost every section of Chapters 2 and 3.
It does not happen all that often: this is a call for assistance. Following a student’s Q re ‘habitual residence’ in Rome I, I have now noticed something I had not before (I more often than not use the English version of the Regulation in my teaching and practice): Article 6(1) on ‘consumer contracts’ uses the term ‘habitual residence’ ‘gewone verblijfplaats’ (defined, or not, for natural persons, in Article 19) in the introductory para (which identifies applicable law). However in littera a it then uses ‘domicile’ ‘woonplaats’: a term which is not otherwise used in Rome I and which is not defined by it.
A quick scan of other language versions (French, English, German) reveals no such error: they all use the equivalent of ‘habitual residence’ in both instances. Now, evidently the error must be pushed aside given the other language versions however: is any reader of the blog aware of a corrigendum ever published? For if it has, I cannot locate it.
(Handbook of ) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.5.
Many thanks to Jan von Hein for flagging the ultimate judgment (the link is to a press release) of the Bundesarbeitsgericht in Nikiforidis. I had of course reported earlier my serious misgivings about the CJEU’s judgment in same, upon preliminary review.
The judgment eventually declined to employ the opening left by the CJEU, to take Greek law into account ‘as a matter of fact’. Thank you, but no thank you: there was no suitable point of entry in German law to take account of the Greek austerity laws. Still, as Jan points out, the judgment in Luxembourg undoubtedly will feature as precedent in future cases.
Rincon ((2017) 8 Cal. App 5th 1) is another case suited to comparative conflicts classes. It applies California’s restrictive regime on waiver of jury trial to a contract governed by New York law and with choice of court for New York.
‘Lois de police‘, also known as lois d’application immédiate or lois d’application nécessaire, are included in the EU’s Rome I Regulation (on applicable law for contracts) in Article 9. (I reported earlier on their application in Unamar).
Jason Grinell has background to the case. Parties had made choice of law and choice of court in favour of New York. The link with New York was real (in EU terms: this was not a ‘purely domestic’ situation), inter alia because of the involvement of New York-based banks, parties being sophisticated commercial undertakings, and the contract having been negotiated in NY. However the real estate development is located at San Francisco, giving CAL a strong link to the case. Under CAL law, parties generally cannot waive a jury trial before the commencement of a lawsuit unless they use one of two methods approved by the legislature. New York law does not have the same provision and choice of court clauses in favour of New York do not include reference to the only options available under CAL law.
In the case at issue, the boilerplate choice of court clause was set aside by the Court of Appeal. The lower court had denied a substantial enough Californian interest in the case – the CA disagreed. The relevant part of the judgment runs until p.22.
That comparative conflicts binder is filling out nicely.
Vinyls Italia: Szpunar AG on the chemistry between the Insolvency Regulation and Rome I. And again, on the pauliana.
In C-54/16 Vinyls Italia (in full: Vinyls Italia SpA, in liquidation v Mediterranea di Navigazione SpA) Szpunar AG opined last week (the Opinion is not available in English). At the core of the case is the application of Article 13 of the Insolvency Regulation 2000 (Article 16 in the 2015 version; see my general review here), however the case opens an interesting discussion on the meaning of ‘international’ in ‘private international law’.
For the general context of Article 13 (16 new) I should like to refer to my review of Lutz and Nike. At issue in the case at hand are payments made by Vinyls to Mediterranea for the transport of chemicals of the former by the latter. Both are Italian registered companies. Shipment was presumably carried out in Italy (an extra-Italian element in the actual transport does not feature in the factual analysis re ‘international’, which I refer to below). However the contract made choice of law in favour of English law. Mediterranea makes recourse to Article 13 juncto English law as the lex contractus to ward off an attempt by Vinyls to have the payments return to its books.
First up is the question whether courts should apply Article 13 ex officio: for Mediterranea’s claim was made after the procedural deadline foreseen by Italian law. Szpunar AG in my view justifiably suggest it does not: he refers to the Virgos Schmit report [„Article 13 represents a defence against the application of the law of the State of the opening, which must be pursued by the interested party, who must claim it” – § 136 of that report, para 43 of the AG’s Opinion) and to the CJEU’s finding in C-310/14 Nike at 26. The AG does point to the particulars of the case: Mediterranea seemingly had provided proof supporting its view that the substantial conditions of Article 13 had been met (in particular an expert opinion by an English lawyer) but had not expressis verbis requested its application. Szpunar refers the final say to the Italian court, which needs to judge on the basis of Italian civil procedure however does suggest that it seems fairly inconceivable to have provided proof for the fulfillment of a legal proviso, without meaning to request its application.
The question on the applicability of Rome I at all (which is required if Mediterranea want to make recourse to the provisions of English law as lex contractus per Rome I or the Rome convention) may not make it to the CJEU. As Szpunar AG notes, the underlying contract dates prior to 17 December 2009, which is the cut-off date of the Rome I Regulation. The referring court being a court of first instance, it is not in a position to request preliminary review of Rome I’s predecessor, the 1980 Rome Convention. The AG completes the analysis anyway (the Court itself will not, should it find Rome I not to be applicable) and takes in my view the right, expansionist approach (one which I also defend in my handbook): especially given the presence of Article 3(3)’s proviso for ‘purely domestic’ contracts, it is clear that it suffices for Rome I to be applicable that parties make choice of court in favour of a foreign law. Further in the opinion (137 ff) he also suggests that such application is not tantamount to fraude a la loi (fraus legis) and again I agree: the relevance of fraus has been seriously diminished by the provisions on party autonomy in both Rome I and the Rome Convention.
The use of choice of law per Rome I (or the Convention) in turn serves as a jack to trigger the application of the insolvency Regulation. That too is correct in my view, and with undramatic consequences. Choice of law for the underlying contract only identifies its lex causae (where relevant, with an impact on Article 13 of the Insolvency Regulation). It does does not of course in and of itself determine the lex concursus: the latter is determined by the Insolvency Regulation once /if insolvency occurs. Parties have no means to manipulate this at the time of the formation of the contract.
Exciting, conceptual stuff. Most probably the Court itself will not be in a position to assess it all.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.1; Heading 184.108.40.206; chapter 5; Heading 5.7.1.