Posts Tagged Torpedo
Asymmetric clauses, exclusivity, torpedoes and lis alibi pendens: The High Court in Commerzbank v Liquimar Tankers.
Many of the issues in  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.
(Handbook of) European Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Ch.2, Heading 2.2.9, Heading 220.127.116.11.1, Heading 18.104.22.168.
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  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.
(Handbook of) European Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Ch.2, Heading 2.2.9, Heading 22.214.171.124.1, Heading 126.96.36.199.
Update 19 September 2019 the relevant Greek Court of Appeal has refused to recognise the judgments awarding damages, on account of ordre public. Appeal with the Supreme Court and CJEU reference seem likely.
I have reported before on the lis alibi pendens issue in the Alexandros litigation. (The left-over claims as identified in my previous post were, I understand, dropped, and hence the need for ECJ referral subsided – Hill Dickinson have a good summary of the various proceedings here). The Court of Appeal on the 18th of July held on the now (following the Supreme Court’s intervention) remaining issue of declarations, damages and indemnities in respect of the owners’ proceedings in Greece seeking damages from the insurers, despite proceedings for sums due under the relevant insurance policies having been settled in England pursuant to a choice of forum clause. (Apologies for this all being a bit dense – reading my previous post helps). (Greek courts in fact rejected the claims in April).
The left-over issue essentially boils down to the question whether despite the ECJ’s prohibition of anti-suit injunctions for subject-matter falling within the Brussel I-Regulation, Member States courts are free to award damages to the party suing elsewhere in the EU in spite of a choice of court agreement between parties. The Court of Appeal held that they are. It justifiably, in my view, distinguished Turner v Grovit . In Turner v Grovit, the ECJ is concerned with mutual trust and allowing (and indeed trusting) the courts in the other Member States to make their own, proper application of the Regulation. Turner and Grovit does not uphold jurisdiction for the other court: it upholds the opportunity for that other court properly to apply the Regulation, which may or may not lead it to uphold jurisdiction.
The judgment of the Court of Appeal re-enforces the attraction of English courts as a destination of choice: parties wishing to torpedo (a prospect less likely in the Brussels I-bis Regulation) may or may not succeed in convincing alternative courts of their jurisdiction. English courts since Turner cannot issue anti-suit. However they may still hold party liable for having breached the choice of court agreement.
In the case of the Alexandros T, the UK Supreme Court had to consider the impact on UK proceedings, opened in response to proceedings in Greece, in a dispute in which the insurers of the ship were under the impression that things had been settled following earlier proceedings in England.
On 3 May 2006 the vessel Alexandros T sank and became a total loss 300 miles south of Port Elizabeth, with considerable loss of life. Her owners were Starlight Shipping Company (“Starlight”). They made a claim against their insurers, who denied liability on the basis that the vessel was unseaworthy with the privity of the assured, namely Starlight. The insurers also said that Starlight had failed properly to report and repair damage to the vessel. Suits and countersuits followed, in England, on the basis of an exclusive jurisdictional clause in the insurance agreements. On 13 December 2007, the 2006 proceedings had been settled between Starlight and the LMI (as well as various underwriters) for 100% of the claim, but without interest and costs, in full and final satisfaction of the claim.
In April 2011, nine sets of Greek proceedings, in materially identical form, were issued by Starlight and by a range of other interested parties, against the LMI and the underwriters. The claims are for compensation for loss of hire and loss of opportunity by Starlight and for pecuniary compensation due to moral damage. All the claims rely upon breaches of the Greek Civil and Criminal Code, not, as before, on the contractual arrangements. Since the issue of the Greek proceedings, the insurers have taken further steps and brought further proceedings in England. The insurers sought to enforce the settlement agreements. Starlight at al subsequently sought a stay of the English proceedings under Article 27 or 28 of the Brussels I Regulation. The High Court refused. The Court of Appeal granted. The Supreme Court had to untie the knot.
The Brussels I Regulation (the Jurisdiction Regulation or ‘JR’) is quite strict on lis alibi pendens, as has been repeatedly emphasised on this blog. The ECJ, too, insists on a guillotine approach of lis alibi pendens, provided of course the conditions for its application are met. The lis alibi pendens rule of Article 27 JR obliges a Court to stay proceedings if another Member State court has already been seized in the same matter, and to trust the proper application by the latter of the jurisdictional grounds of the Regulation. Article 27 JR has given malevolent parties a means to obstruct proceedings, by seizing a court in a Member State with no or desperate grounds for jurisdiction, banking on the tardiness of its judicial proceedings to gain time and ‘torpedo’ the case of the bona fide party.
1. Where proceedings involving the same cause of action and between the same parties are brought in the courts of different Member States, any court other than the court first seized shall of its own motion stay its proceedings until such time as the jurisdiction of the court first seized is established.
2. Where the jurisdiction of the court first seized is established, any court other than the court first seized shall decline jurisdiction in favour of that court.
1. Where related actions are pending in the courts of different Member States, any court other than the court first seized may stay its proceedings.
2. Where these actions are pending at first instance, any court other than the court first seized may also, on the application of one of the parties, decline jurisdiction if the court first seized has jurisdiction over the actions in question and its law permits the consolidation thereof.
3. For the purposes of this Article, actions are deemed to be related where they are so closely connected that it is expedient to hear and determine them together to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgments resulting from separate proceedings.
The rule is (fairly) simple and clear: where the same action, between the same parties is brought before the courts of two Member States, Article 27 obliges the court seized second, to at least freeze its jurisdiction. The conditions for Article 27 to apply are that the case involves the same action, between the same parties. The ECJ has clarified in Gubish Machinenfabrik and in The Tatry what was already clearer in other language versions namely that Article 27 requires three identities: identify of parties; identify of object or ‘subject-matter’; and identity of cause. The English version and the German version mention ‘same parties’ and ‘same cause of action’ only: they do not expressly distinguish between the concepts of “object” and “cause” of action. The ECJ held in Gubish that ‘(T)he “cause of action” comprises the facts and the rule of law relied on as the basis of the action.’ , and added in Gantner Electronic that in this respect account should be taken only of the claims of the respective applicants, to the exclusion of the defence submissions raised by a defendant.
Article 28, then, applies to actions which do not conform to the Article 27 conditions, e.g. for actions between different parties, however where the actions are so related that separate proceedings would risk irreconcilable judgments. The purpose of that provision is to avoid the risk of conflicting judgments and thus to facilitate the proper administration of justice in the Union – it gives much more flexibility to the courts of the Member States as to whether to apply the provision or not.
In the case of the Alexandros, the application of these two Articles led to extensive to and fro by counsel with Lord Clarke (at 51 ff) stating that the principles of Article 27 JR ‘require a comparison of the claims made in each jurisdiction and, in particular, consideration of whether the different claims have le même objet et la même cause without regard to the defences being advanced (…) As I see it, Article 27 involves a comparison between the causes of action in the different sets of proceedings, not (as in Article 28) the proceedings themselves. (…) the analysis cannot involve a broad comparison between what each party ultimately hopes to achieve. The analysis simply involves a comparison between the claims in order to see whether they have the same cause and the same object.‘ He then suggested that Article 27 has no impact on the proceedings at issue – the English proceedings should not be stayed and in Lord Clarke’s view the matter is acte claire: no reference to the ECJ needed.
Lord Mance disagreed with this approach, essentially suggesting that both actions seek a declaration of non-liability and are therefore at least for some of them, the same action within the meaning of Article 27. Lest parties drop those claims (they have been given two weeks to do so), this question will be referred to the ECJ.
As for the application of Article 28, Lord Clarke suggest that the English Court should not exercise the possibility of a stay, inter alia in light of the exclusive choice of court clause previously agreed between the parties: ‘ I can see no reason why, in exercising that discretion under Article 28, the court second seised should not take into account the fact that the parties had previously agreed (or arguably agreed) an exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of that court. On the contrary, depending upon the circumstances of the particular case, that seems to me to be likely to be a powerful factor in support of refusal of a stay.’ (at 95) On this, Lord Mance did not disagree, neither did he suggest referral to the ECJ.
The interpretation of Article 27 is therefore quite likely to end up at the ECJ: it is difficult to conceive that parties will drop those claims rather than retain the possibility of the ECJ siding with them.
The judgment to my knowledge is the first to examine Articles 27 and 28 JR at quite such length and with quite such expert counsel.