Ebuy Partners. Anti-suit viz Belgian proceedings re incorporation of e-mailed and /or hyperlinked general terms and conditions, with a serious miss on Rome I.

Ebury Partners Belgium SA/NV v Technical Touch BV & Anor [2022] EWHC 2927 (Comm) discusses ia whether choice of court and law included in general terms and conditions – GTCs, agreed (or not) by inclusion in email and /or e-mailed click-wrapeable hyperlink (this is a factual discussion), justifies an anti-suit injunction against Belgian proceedings.

Pre-Brexit such injunction would not have been possible. It has since of course been granted frequently; my most recent report of one was QBE Europe v Generali. Issuing an anti-suit post Brexit therefore is no longer surprising (commentators continue to suggest the EU should somehow shield EU proceedings from them). The application of the Rome I Regulation under retained EU law however does remain less discussed – and it is poorly executed in current judgment.

Anticipatory proceedings seeking a declaration of non-liability were launched unexpectedly (Belgian CPR requires no prior warning in any circumstance) in Belgium on 4 May 2022. The Belgian court later that month held that Ebury’s jurisdiction challenge  will not be dealt with separately, instead, as is standard, will be reserved for consideration at the same time as the merits.

The English proceedings were launched in July 2022. A critical question is whether Ebury can show, with a high degree of probability, that there is a jurisdiction agreement governing the dispute in question. Was the E&W jurisdiction clause contained in Ebury’s RA standard terms incorporated into the agreement between Ebury and TT? The factual circumstances are not conclusive, for there are suggestions of GTCS with choice of court sent by incorporation in an e-mail and /or by click-wrapeable  hyperlink similarly e-mailed.

The judge is correct to classify Rome I as retained law [83]. However the exclusion of choice of court agreements from that Regulation has somehow entirely escaped him and counsel, it seems.

Rather therefore than considering the issue under English conflict of laws (in EU Member States the issue is now subject to Article 25  Brussels Ia however that is irrelevant here), the judgment ventures into Article 10 Rome I’s putative law /von Munchausen /bootstrap principle, to identify English substantive law as the lex cause for the validity (including the issue of incorporation) of the choice of court. This leads after extensive discussion to a finding of incorporation under English law [102].

[103] ff Belgian law is signalled as a fall-back under Article 3(5) and 10(2) Rome I, however the judge essentially ignores that possibility (although he formally entertains it) by referring to a lack of indication on the facts that the counterparty agreed to the relevant clauses. He uses the ‘man on the Clapham omnibus’ formula to reach that conclusion: counterparty did consult or should have consulted the GTCs and there are no factual indications it disagreed with them. Conflicting Belgian law  expert evidence is not discussed.

Anti-suit was eventually granted.

If their apparent lack of raising the proper analysis (ie: no inclusion of choice of court) of the Rome I issue does not prevent defendants from appealing, they clearly should, to the extent the English conflict of laws approach to validity of choice of court, may lead to a finding of non-incorporation.

Geert.

Banca Intesa v Venezia: An excellent illustration of the relevance of characterisation. (And of the application of the ‘purely domestic contracts’ rule, with a pudding of the ‘consideration’ theory as lois de police)).

Banca Intesa Sanpaolo SPA & Anor v Comune Di Venezia [2022] EWHC 2586 (Comm) is an excellent illustration of the relevance of characterisation and of the international harmonisation of same. It also discusses the application of the ‘purely domestic contracts’ rule of Article 3(3) Rome Convention, carried over into the Rome Regulation.

Background is long-running litigation involving derivative transactions used by Italian municipalities to hedge their interest rate risk, as Sarah Ott summarises the context here (she discusses Dexia Crediop SpA v Provincia di Pesaro e Urbino [2022] EWHC 2410 (Comm), a case with many similar issues).

Venice contends that, for various reasons, it lacked the substantive power to enter into the Transactions as a matter of Italian law, and that, applying English conflict of law principles, that means that it did not have capacity to enter into the Transactions and that they are not valid. It also contends that the Transactions breached various rules of Italian law which have the status of “mandatory rules of law” for the purposes of A3(3) Rome Convention 1980 (which is applicable and not the Rome I Regulation) and that as a result the Transactions are void and/or unenforceable.

The Banks deny that the entry into the Transactions contravened any provisions of Italian law, on the basis of arguments as to the effect of Italian law and its application to the facts of this case, and further deny that any such contravention would deprive Venice of capacity to contract as a matter of English conflict of laws principles in any event.

Capacity to enter into contractual relationship itself is not caught by the Rome Convention as a result of the Convention’s carve-out of Article 1(2) c (most legal systems make such capacity subject to the lex incorporationis, and [115] is determined by reference to the law in force when the Transactions were entered into). Foxton J refers as authority to Credit Suisse International v Stichting Vestia Groep [2014] EWHC 3103 (Comm) [185].

Who then is to decide whether a particular issue of Italian law raises a question of capacity, or authority, or some other kind of legal challenge to the validity and efficacy of the Transactions? Here Foxton J wrongly in my view simply refers to lex fori, English law. In reality of course it is the Rome Convention that does so, although as I have pointed out before, neither the Rome Convention nor Rome I excels at clarifying.

[129] ff then follows lengthy analysis of the issues of capacity under Italian law as the lex causae, with the conclusion being that Venice did indeed so lack capacity under Italian law.

The issue of mandatory Italian law replacing the English lex contractus as a result of Article 3(3) Rome Convention’s ‘purely domestic contracts’ rule, is dealt with obiter. It fails at the first hurdle with Foxton J holding [341] that the scenario is not purely domestic. He does not much entertain the issue of whether under Italian law (lack of) a theory of contractual consideration might be of mandatory nature, referring [356] to the similar issues of consideration and privity of contracts under English law (which in effect might subsequently become relevant under the overriding mandatory rules of the forum).

An interesting judgment.

Geert.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Geert.

 

 

Rome I’s corporate carve-out and agency /principal relations in Canara Bank v MCS.

Canara Bank v MCS International [2022] EWHC 2012 (Comm) is interesting with respect to Cooper J’s discussion of privity of choice of court and law, and the corporate carve-out of retained (post Brexit) Rome I.

Canara (an Indian bank) say that the Guarantee at the core of the issues, with English choice of law and court, was transmitted automatically to MCS France under the French Civil Code as a result of an amalgamation or merger of two French companies, namely the original guarantor and MCS France.

On the impact of Rome I, the judge [53] presumably with parties’ counsel approval, remarks that ‘pursuant to Article 1(2)(e) and (f), Rome 1 does not apply to questions governed by the law of companies or to the issue of whether or not an agent is able to bind a principal in relation to a third party. For both these issues, it is necessary to look to common law principles.’

[88] It is said again that whether an agent is able to bind a principal in relation to a third party is excluded from Rome 1 further to article 1(2)(g), the corporate carve-out. I do not think that is necessarily the case, even in combination with the Article 1(2)(e) carve-out for choice of court. The judge at any rate continues by applying the Dicey Rule 243 that where an agent acts or purports to act on behalf of a principal, their rights and liabilities in relation to each other are in general governed by the law applicable to the relationship or contract between them, with Dicey Rule 244(1) adding a bootstrap /von Munchausen /putative law element:

The issue whether the agent is liable to bind the principal to a contract with a third party, or a term of that contract, is governed by the law which would govern that contract or term, if the agent’s authority were established.”

[89] In light of the foregoing, ‘it was common ground between the parties, and rightly so, that Mr. Maurel’s actual authority on behalf of MIF fell to be determined under French law and the question of whether and to what extent Mr. Maurel was able to bind MIF in respect of the Guarantee given Canara’s knowledge of the resolution is a matter of English law.’

Common English conflict of laws is held to apply to the issue of transfer of a guarantee during the dissolution of a company, and parties agree [76] that whether a corporation has been amalgamated with another corporation is to be determined by the law of its place of incorporation: French law is held to be the relevant law for the dissolved guarantor issue, and expert reports were discussed.

Overall conclusion is [125]

Having considered the issue of good arguable case by reference to each of the issues raised by the parties in relation to the question of whether MCS France was a party to the Guarantee and therefore the jurisdiction agreement contained within it, it seems to me to appropriate to step back and consider whether overall Canara has a good arguable case on whether or not MCS France was a party to that jurisdiction agreement. In this regard, I consider that it does. Even were I to be wrong on one of the issues considered above, the balance of the evidence supports the conclusion that MCS France is a party to the Guarantee and to the jurisdiction agreement contained within it. In circumstances, where the evidence establishes that Canara, MCS France and MCS UK have done business since 2014 on the basis that the Guarantee was binding on MCS France, it would be a surprising conclusion that there was no good arguable case that MCS France was a party to the jurisdiction agreement.

Interesting, if flimsy on the corporate carve-out issue.

Geert.

Pal v Damen. A haywire engagement with the consumer, contract section of Brussels Ia.

Pal v Damen & Anor [2022] EWHC 4697 (QB) is another application (compare Clarke v Kalecinski) of Brussels Ia’s consumer section to cosmetic surgery contracts. Respectfully, the analysis is a botched job.

Claims are both in contract and in tort, as is usual in this type of litigation. Jurisdiction on the basis of the consumer title against the Belgium-based surgeon is undisputed, as is the lack of jurisdiction under Article 7(2)’s tort gateway against the clinic where the surgery was performed, locus damni (direct damage, CJEU Marinari) and locus delicti commissi both being in Belgium. The core question is whether there is a contract between surgeon and /or the clinic and the patient, and whether this is a consumer contract.

The second question needs to be determined first. The clinic essentially provides the hardware for the surgeon, but also ensures patient flow via its website http://www.wellnesskliniek.com which without a doubt meets with the  CJEU Pammer /Alpenhof criteria and therefore ‘directs its activities’ towards the UK. Its general terms and conditions, of which it is somewhat disputed that claimant ticked the relevant box, state ia that the clinic ‘is not party to the treatment agreement between the physician and the patient.’ 

The  expert evidence [25] ff centres around Belgian law. Expert for one of the defendants is their Belgian counsel, and Cook M dismisses his report [55] as not meeting relevant CPR requirements on expert evidence. On the basis of the remaining evidence, the judge finds [59]

the Claimant has established a good arguable case for the existence of a contract for medical treatment and /or medical services between her and the Surgeon and accordingly this Court has jurisdiction over that claim. The Claimant has failed to establish a good arguable case for the existence of a contract for medical treatment and /or medical services against the Clinic and accordingly the Court does not have jurisdiction over that claim.

With respect, the direction of analysis is entirely wrong. The first line of enquiry should have been whether there is a consumer contract with either or both of the Belgian parties, and if there is with one, whether the other party could have been caught in its jurisdictional slipstream. Á la Bonnie Lackey but then in the opposite direction: in Bonnie Lackey the question was whether persons in the immediate orbit of the undisputed ‘consumer’-claimant, may also sue under the consumer title. In current case, the question would be whether those in the immediate vicinity of the business-defendant, may be sued under the consumer title. The existence of a consumer contract is entirely an EU law question, not a Belgian law one.

Next, if the decision were taken that at least one of the parties is not caught by the consumer title, the existence of a ‘contract’ (for the provision of ‘services’) under Article 7(1) would be triggered, as would the forum contractus under Article 7(1)a, with an analysis of where the services were or should have been provided. This, too, is an analysis that requires EU law and EU law alone. [There is no trace in the judgment of a choice of court and /or law which for the former per A25 Brussels Ia may require Belgian law, with renvoi, a lex fori prorogati but even then only for the material ‘consent’ issue].

Belgian law does not come into this analysis at all, unless, potentially and most unlikely, one argues that the A7(1) analysis requires the conflicts method, should a contract for medical services not be caught by Article 7(1)’s ‘provision of services’: in that case, Rome I’s decision tree would be required to determine lex contractus and place of performance. Even then however it is not at all certain that Belgian law would be the outcome of Rome I’s matrix.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, 2.222 ff, 2.385 ff.

BRG NOAL v Kowski. A debatable applicable law consideration under A4 Rome I decides a forum non stay.

BRG NOAL GP SARL & Anor v Kowski & Anor [2022] EWHC 867 (Ch) continues the current trend of forum non conveniens applications galore, following Brexit. In the case at issue, with Luxembourg suggested as the appropriate forum, applicable law determination, under (retained) Rome I’s ‘characteristic performance’ rule plays a core role.

Applicable law needs to be determined essentially viz an undertaking as I understand it, by a, validly removed, investment fund General Partner, not to torpedo the subsequent orderly continuation of the fund. The core commitment reads

“I, [name], hereby acknowledge that [NOAL GP] is the managing general partner (“General partner”) of [the Fund] with effect from 27 August 2021 and unconditionally and irrevocably undertake (a) not to assert otherwise, or to induce or procure an assertion to the contrary or otherwise challenge or question the validity of its appointment or induce or produce such challenge or question, in any applicable forum and (b) to cooperate with and assist the General Partner in completing a full, orderly and timely transfer of the control of the Partnership and all of its assets and any obligations to the General Partner”.

Claimant [57] suggests the specific Undertaking in and of itself meets the CJEU Handte definition of a stand alone contractual obligation, however Smith J does not specifically hold on this for in her view even if this were correct, the overall contractual construction would have an impact on the applicable law consideration, seeing as in her view:

no choice of law was made; no default ‘passe partout’ contract as listed in A4(1) Rome I applies; A4(2) Rome I’s ‘characteristic performance’ test does not lead to an answer ([61]: there is no ‘characteristic performance’] and at any rate even if there were, the judge would have applied A4(3)’s escape clause to lead to Luxembourg law; and the ‘proper law of the contract’ per A4(4) Rome I ‘clearly’ [63-64] leads to Luxembourgish law.

In conclusion, a stay is ordered and the forum non application is successful. In my view the judge jumped too easily to Articles 4(3) and (4), denying Article 4(2)’s or even Article 3 choice of law’s effet utile. It is not unusual for judges to let their predetermination to apply A4(3) and /or (4) determine their A4(2) search for a lex contractus. Yet that frequency does not make the judgment right.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed, 2021, Heading 3.2.6.2.

Clarke v Kalecinski. On rules of safety and conduct under Rome II, but also on the implications of marketing language for duty of care.

Update 20 April 2022 Daniel Clarke reviews the issue of proof of foreign law here.

Clarke v Kalecinski & Ors [2022] EWHC 488 (QB) concerns a claim for damages for personal injury sustained during cosmetic surgery undergone by claimant on 7 January 2015. Claims is against the surgeon (domiciled and habitually resident in Poland; but also registered with the UK General Medical Council) who performed the breast and thigh procedures in Poland, and against the Clinic (a company incorporated in Poland in which  the surgeon and his wife are the sole shareholders and directors), where the operations were carried out and she received pre-and post-operative treatment. Claimant also sues the insurer of the Clinic.

Jurisdiction is not disputed. Both surgeon and clinic are being sued under the consumer title of Brussels Ia. The insurance company is being sued under CJEU Odenbreit: subject to the applicable law of the tort and the existence under same of a direct right of action against an insurer, section 3 BIa gives claimant a right to sue in claimant’s domicile.

Claimant sues both surgeon and clinic, both in contract and in tort. She seeks to hold the clinic either directly or vicariously liable for the failures of the surgeons who treated her – one other Polish surgeon was involved in her care – and the nurses who cared for her at the clinic in Poland. Total potential liability for the insurance company, under the indemnity of the clinic (they do not insure the surgeon) is limited to approximately £38,500.

Proper law of the contract is English law, per A6(1) of the consumer title of Rome I. This is not disputed. It had been anticipated by claimant until trial that it was also a matter of agreement that the proper law of the claim in tort was Polish law, per Rome II. However in its skeleton argument, for the first time, the insurer raised an issue about the adequacy of claimant’s pleading arguing they had failed to plead the Polish law upon which they relied, so the proper law of the tortious claim was by default, English law.  That was rejected by the judge on the basis of the exchange between parties.

At [104] ff Foster J discussed the application of A17 Rome II: the judge must take into account as a matter of fact, the rules of safety and conduct in force at the place and time of the event, i.e. Poland. However [107] the judge insists on the importance of the English standard of care

where it is a term of the contract that the first defendant would operate to the same standard as a UK surgeon, skilled in this specialism, and registered with the GMC, it is that standard, that applied to the activities in issue here. The care offered by the clinic likewise. [emphasis in the original]

Those terms of the contract were deduced by the judge [77]:

[claimant] does not allege that she signed any contract or document, save for a consent form which the court has not seen. However, in my judgement the substance of the representations on the website upon which Ms Clarke clearly relied, were incorporated into the contract between her and the clinic together with Mr Kaleciński. In my judgement this was one contract but involving both parties: the surgeon and all the other care givers at the clinic, by means of the clinic (Noa Clinic Uslugi Sp. z o.o), those incorporated representations were to the following effect. The first defendant would carry out the surgery and he would carry it out to the standard to be expected of a GMC registered surgeon proficient in plastic surgery.

This emphasis by the judge imparts once again the relevance of language, no doubt for marketing purposes, for the consequential legal obligations. Foster J moreover holds [108]

That standard applies to the tortious duty also by reason of the  representations made to which reference is made above.

and [109] she holds

the findings of [the expert] are couched in such stringent terms that they cover any surgical and indeed clinical practice whether governed by local Polish customs or not. The conclusions of [the expert] put paid to any subtlety of distinction between local custom and English practice that might … in other circumstances be considered relevant. What took place fell so far below acceptable standards I cannot accept the contention that local standards or practices might have rendered the egregious failings in this case acceptable as a matter of contractual or tortious obligation.

The judge’s findings on A17 Rome II are interesting. Yet I find her conclusions on website representations even more relevant.

Geert.

Protecting employees under Rome I (and the Convention). The French SC takes a fork in the road view on setting aside choice of law.

I am in blog queue clear-out mode today. Thank you Maxime Barba for flagging the French SC’s December judgment on the application of Rome I’s (in fact the Rome Convention but the provisions have not materially changed) protective regime for employees. At issue is a contract for which parties had chosen Moroccan law, with the Court of Appeal setting aside that choice under A6 Rome Convention, now A8 Rome I, in favour of the French law’s provisions for dismissal, binding upon the employer by virtue of a collective labour agreement.

As Maxime notes, an interesting reference is the SC’s view on what law has to be considered ‘more favourable’. This weighing is a consequence of A6 stipulating

in a contract of employment a choice of law made by the parties shall not have the result of depriving the employee of the protection afforded to him by the mandatory rules of the law which would be applicable under paragraph 2 in the absence of choice.

Clearly setting aside only occurs when the default law (the one that applies in the absence of choice) is more favourable to the employee. How though does one assess that more protective character? Piecemeal, checking every part of the employment relationship? Or more ‘global’, which would mean the exercise might let the employee down on some of the consequences. And once the comparison made, how much of the offending law does one set aside? The SC first of all notes that

[12] D’abord, la détermination du caractère plus favorable d’une loi doit résulter d’une appréciation globale des dispositions de cette loi ayant le même objet ou se rapportant à la même cause.

The judge’s exercise must limit itself to those parts of labour law which are at issue in the dispute: not an overall comparison, in other words. However as I understand the judgment, the employer had argued that once the comparison made (here: French law including a longer list of dismissal without cause than Moroccan law), the judge must only give sectional priority to the default law: here: the judge, it is argued, must treat the end of the relationship as one without cause, but must then resurrect Moroccan law’s consequences to such dismissal without cause. The SC on the other hand puts a fork in the road: once the road to French ‘dismissal without cause’ taken, French consequences for same apply. (The SC does in the end annul on the basis of a wrong calculation of the severance package, under French law).

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 3.2.5.

No Harry, don’t look at the light! The CJEU in Sharewood on Rome I’s rei sitae exception to consumer protection.

In C-595/20 Sharewood, the CJEU last week held on the extent of Rome I’s rei sitae exception to consumer contracts. In essence, as a result of Article 6 Rome I, for consumer contracts, choice of law is free (in the case at issue this lex voluntatis was Swiss law) except the consumer may always fall back on the mandatory laws of his habitual residence (here, Austrian law).

For a limited selection of contracts, including (A6(4)c) ‘a contract relating to a right in rem in immovable property or a tenancy of immovable property other than a contract relating to (timeshares)’, party  autonomy is restored in full under the terms of Articles 3 and 4 Rome I, hence the consumer loses his protection.

The contract at issue is a tree purchase, lease and service agreement. The trees at issue are grown in Brasil. The ground rent for the lease agreement, which granted the right to grow the trees in question, was included in the purchase price of those trees. The service agreement provided that ShareWood would manage, administer, harvest and sell the trees and would remit the net return on the timber to UE, the (anonymised) consumer. The difference compared to the gross return, expressed as a percentage of the return, was retained by ShareWood as its fee for the provision of those services.

The question in the case at issue is essentially how intensive the link to (foreign) soil needs to be for it to fall under the rei sitae carve-out for consumer contracts. The CJEU does refer to some of its Brussels Ia case-law, including Klein and Kerr, for the ‘tenancy’ element of the question, but not for the ‘rights in rem’ part of the discussion, where it more straightforwardly concludes on the basis of the contractual arrangements that the trees [28]

must be regarded as being the proceeds of the use of the land on which they are planted. Although such proceeds will, as a general rule, share the same legal status as the land on which the trees concerned are planted, the proceeds may nevertheless, by agreement, be the subject of personal rights of which the owner or occupier of that land may dispose separately without affecting the right of ownership or other rights in rem appertaining to that land. A contract which relates to the disposal of the proceeds of the use of land cannot be treated in the same way as a contract which relates to a ‘right in rem in immovable property’, within the meaning of Article 6(4)(c) of the Rome I Regulation

and [37]

the main purpose of the contract at issue in the main proceedings is not the use, in the context of a lease, of the land on which the trees concerned are planted, but… to generate income from the sale of the timber obtained following the harvest of those trees. As is apparent from the order for reference, the lease provided for in that agreement, which includes only the right to allow those trees to grow and has no purpose other than the acquisition of those trees, is intended merely to enable the sales and services elements provided for in the contract to be carried out.

Not caught therefore by the rei sitae exception.

I often refer my students to Harry, in A Bug’s Life, to make the point that both for jurisdictional and for applicable law purposes, the mere presence of real estate does not lead to the rei sitae jurisdictional and governing law implications being triggered. CJEU Sharewood is a good illustration of same.

Geert.

 

Khalifeh v Blom Bank. On implied choice of law and consumer contracts (including ‘direction of activities’ in Rome I.

Khalifeh v Blom Bank SAL [2021] EWHC 3399 (QB) is the second High Court judgment in the space of a few weeks to involve Lebanese Banks and the application of the protective regime for consumers in EU private international law. (See earlier Bitar v Banque Libano-Francaise).

Foxton J explains why there is such activity: difficult financial conditions faced by Lebanese banks and their customers at the current time, and the practical impossibility of transferring foreign currency out of Lebanon, caused acute anguish for those with foreign currency accounts in Lebanese banks. Understandably they have explored every avenue open to them in an effort to access their hard-won savings.

Jurisdiction would seem not to be in dispute (presumably given the presence of non-exclusive choice of court in a general agreement), applicable law is. Even in consumer contracts, Article 6 Rome I allows parties to the contract to chose applicable law – except such choice must not deprive the consumer of the protection of the mandatory elements of the law that would apply had no choice been made: that ‘default law’, per Article 6(1) Rome I, is the law of the consumer’s habitual residence.

Whether choice of law has been made is to be determined in accordance with Article 3, which proscribes that choice of law must be  either nominatim, or ‘clearly demonstrated’ by the circumstances of the case. The latter is often referred to as ‘implicit’ choice of law although there is nothing truly implicit about it: choice of law cannot be made happenstance, it must have been made clearly (even if not in so many words). [47] ff the judge considers whether ‘implicit’ choice has been made, referring to Avonwick,  and holds [66] that there was, namely in favour of Lebanese law. He concludes this as a combined effect of

a jurisdiction clause in a related, general agreement which he found to be exclusive [63] in favour of Beirut; I have to say I do not think the judgment engages satisfactorily with the argument that this hybrid clause itself is questionable under the lex causae (including consumer law) that would have to apply to it;

the express reference to an agreement to comply with and facilitate the enforcement of identified provisions of Lebanese law; and

the express choice of Lebanese law in a closely related and interwoven contract.

Clearly some of this analysis is fact-specific and subjective however in my view the lex causae element of hybrid choice of court has more beef to the bone.

As for the issue of ‘activities directed at’ the UK, this is discussed [68] ff. First up is an interesting discussion on the relevant time at which the habitual residence of the consumer has to be considered. In light ia of CJEU Commerzbank, which presumably was not available at the time of the discussion, I would suggest the conclusion [73] that the temporal element needs to be fixed at the very beginning, to avoid see-sawing and dépeçage, may need revisiting.

In terms of the actual directing of activities, Pammer /Alpenhof of course is discussed as is Emrek. Having discussed the evidence, the conclusion [105] ff is that there was no direction of activities.

As a result, the remainder of the judgment deals with the substantive issues under Lebanese law.

I do not know whether permission to appeal has been sought. There are sections in the judgment that in my view would merit it.

Geert.

EU private international law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.9.2.7, 2.270 ff; Heading 3.2.4, Heading 3.2.5.

 

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