Lis alibi pendens denied traction in Lotus v Marcassus Sport.

[2019] EWHC 3128 (Comm) Lotus v Marcassus Sport Sarl concerns the application of Articles 29-30 Brussels Ia – the lis alibi pendens rules.

Lotus, an English company, is a well-known manufacturer of cars. By a series of four written contracts entered in 2016, Lotus appointed Marcassus, a French company in the business of distributing sports cars, as a non-exclusive dealer and authorised repairer of Lotus cars in Toulouse and Bordeaux. Each of these contracts was governed by English law and provided for the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the English courts.

In September 2018 Lotus gave notice terminating one of the four agreements. It is common ground that the parties’ overall relationship thereafter terminated. Marcassus then brought proceedings in the Toulouse Commercial Court, claiming loss of profits and bonuses and seeking to enforce contractual penalties. A summons was filed with the Hussier de Justice on 21 December 2018 for onward transmission to the Foreign Process Section of the High Court for service on Lotus, summoning Lotus to appear in Toulouse on 26 March 2019. Marcassus’ claim was filed at the Toulouse Commercial Court on 7 January 2019. Lotus did indeed appear at the hearing on 26 March 2019 and has served a defence disputing the claim, but not claiming in respect of or relying on Marcassus’ non-payment of the 2018 invoices. Lotus offered to undertake not to make such a claim in the Toulouse proceedings hereafter, provided of course that these proceedings were permitted to continue. Meanwhile, on 13 March 2019, Lotus issued these proceedings claiming the amounts due under the 2018 invoices. Marcassus was served with the claim form on 24 April 2019.

Phillips J first of all (at 15 ff ) deals with the issue of which course was ‘seized’ first (compare MB v TB). Lotus contended that Marcassus’ application should fall at the first hurdle because Marcassus has not demonstrated when, if at all, the summons in the Toulouse proceedings was received by the “authority responsible for service” of that summons for the purposes of A32 Brussels Ia, and so cannot establish that the Toulouse court was seised before the English court was seised by the issue of the claim form on 13 March 2019. Marcassus’ case is that the relevant authority is the Hussier de Justice, it being accepted that he received the summons on 21 December 2018. But, in the alternative, if the relevant authority is the Foreign Process Section of the High Court (as Lotus contends), Marcassus invites the inference that it was received by that authority shortly after that date, but in any event before 13 March 2019. Marcassus points to the fact that Lotus appeared before the Toulouse court on 26 March 2019 and has taken no point on service in those proceedings.

Phillips J decides not to hold on this point given that he rejects Article 29 lis alibi pendens anyway – however he indicates he does not find Lotus’ assertion very attractive.

On Article 29, Marcassus accepted that the proceedings, whilst between the same parties, do not presently involve the same “cause of action” however argued that the court could take into account the likely future shape of the proceedings, namely, that Marcassus would seek to set-off and counterclaim the very same claims it has brought in Toulouse. This approach however cannot fly per CJEU C-111/01 Gantner, at 31: in order to determine whether there is lis pendens in relation to two disputes, account cannot be taken of the defence submissions, whatever their nature, and in particular of defence submissions alleging set-off, on which a defendant might subsequently rely when the court is definitively seised in accordance with its national law” and the Article 29 route was duly dismissed.

On Article 30, the claims were found not to be ‘related’ on grounds of Lotus having secured an exclusion of set-off in the contract (Phillips J spent some time debating whether the contract did include such clear exclusion of set-off). This clause effectively keeps the claims on various invoices at arm’s length.

Even had Article 30’s conditions been met, the case would not have been stayed on grounds that the judge (unlike in A29 cases) has discretion whether to do so. Referring to The Alexandros T, at 44: ‘it is obvious that these proceedings should be permitted to continue so that the question of whether clause 29.2 is an effective no set-off clause is determined in this jurisdiction. That issue. (sic) which does not arise in the Toulouse proceedings (limiting the extent of “relatedness”), is an issue of the interpretation of an English law contract (establishing close proximity with this jurisdiction) and can be determined speedily in a summary judgment application (indicating that the stage proceedings have reached is not a factor against this jurisdiction). Further, the parties have expressly agreed to the jurisdiction of the English courts, albeit on a non-exclusive basis.

Application dismissed.

Geert.

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

MB v TB. When is a court ‘seized’ under EU civil procedure /private international law?

When is a court ‘seized’ under EU civil procedure /private international law? The question is highly relevant in light of the application of the lis alibi pendens principle: the court seized second in principle has to cede to the court seized first. Williams J in [2018] EWHC 2035 (Fam) MB v TB notes the limited attempt at harmonisation under EU law and hence the need for the lex fori to complete the procedural jigsaw.

On 8 July 2016 MB (the wife) issued a divorce petition seeking a divorce from TB (the husband). On 16 August 2016 the husband issued a divorce petition against the wife out of the Munich Family Court. On the 22 August 2016 the husband filed an acknowledgement of service to the wife’s petition asserting that the German court was first seized because it was ‘not accepted England is first seized, owing to failures to comply with art. 16 and 19 of Council Regulation (EC 2201/2003) and relevant articles of the EC Service Regulation (EC 1393/2007).

At issue were two considerations: whether seizure of the English courts had been effected; and whether the wife’s issuing of the petition on 8 July 2016 is an abuse of process on the basis that the wife did not at that time consider the marriage to have irretrievably broken down but was issuing a petition simply to secure the English jurisdiction in the event that a divorce was needed? This latter element amounts to disciplining a form of fraus, on which I have reported before – eg here that there is very little EU law.

In Regulation ‘Brussels IIa’ (2201/2003) – concerning jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in matrimonial matters and the matters of parental responsibility, as in the other Regulations, ‘seising of a Court’ is defined as:

  1. A court shall be deemed to be seised: 

(a) at the time when the document instituting the proceedings or an equivalent document is lodged with the court, provided that the applicant has not subsequently failed to take the steps he was required to take to have service effected on the respondent;

or

(b) if the document has to be served before being lodged with the court, at the time when it is received by the authority responsible for service, provided that the applicant has not subsequently failed to take the steps he was required to take to have the document lodged with the court.

These ‘steps required’ are not further defined under EU law and hence rest with national law. Under relevant English law, Williams J held that the husband was aware of the wife’s petition before it was validly served on him, and that this was enough for the English courts to have been validly seized.

Geert.