Posts Tagged von Munchausen
Danilina v Chernukin: how a very Russian case triggers the proper law of the contract under the Rome Convention.
A little bit of factual background is required to understand  EWHC 173 (Comm) Danilina v Chernukin. It concerns a valuable site in Central Moscow (readers of the blog and students of mine will now no longer wonder why this is being litigated in England) which is, indirectly, the subject of a Shareholder Agreement dated 31 May 2005 (the “SHA”). The issue is whether Vladimir Chernukhin, who is not named as a party to the SHA is in fact party to the SHA as a disclosed principal of Lolita Danilina, who is named as a party to the SHA. Mr. Chernukhin and Mrs. Danilina had been in a relationship; it is Mr. Chernukhin’s case that she was a named party because she was acting as his nominee or agent.
That is the purely business side of the litigation – there is also a family assets angle: Ms Danilina has a claim arising out of what she argues to have been an agreement between her and Mr. Chernukhin in 2007 for the division of their assets after their relationship had come to an end.
The latter issue is the ‘2007 Agreement’ and it is this which is of interest to the blog: Teare J at 324: Mrs. Danilina seeks to prove alleges the following, quite detailed, agreement: a) TGM would remain (as it always was) as an asset belonging to Mrs. Danilina and her alone; b) the assets accumulated between them jointly and which they regarded as family assets would be distributed between them on an effectively equal basis with: i) Mrs. Danilina retaining and/or taking those residential real property assets located within Russia, ii) Mr. Chernukhin having those residential real property assets located outside of Russia and iii) save for certain chattels such as cars and the weapon collection (which were to be owned by Mr. Chernukhin) and jewellery and artwork in Russia (which were to be owned by Mrs. Danilina), the balance of their assets would be split equally and Mrs. Danilina’s 50% share held in a trust for her benefit; c) a new structure would be required to reflect these agreements; and d) Mr. Chernukhin would be responsible for taking the necessary steps to give effect to the agreement.
Teare J starts with the bootstrap /von Munchausen: at 325: it is necessary to begin by considering what would be the governing law of the 2007 agreement, if it was made on the terms alleged by Mrs. Danilina. The reason for this is that it is submitted on behalf of Mr. Chernukhin that the agreement, if made, would be governed by Russian law, and that there are provisions of Russian law that affect the admissibility of witness testimony in proving the existence of an oral agreement. Being a contract entered into prior to 16 December 2009, the proper law of the 2007 Agreement would be determined under the Rome Convention on the law applicable to contractual obligations – not the later Rome Regulation.
Was there choice of law “expressed or demonstrated with reasonable certainty by … the circumstances of the case’ (per Article 3(1) Rome Convention? [I have included Articles 3 and 4 in relevant part below]
At 327 are cited (i) the fact that “Mr. Chernukhin had fled Russia in 2004 in an effort to make a clean break from Russian law and jurisdiction”; (ii) that Mrs. Danilina assisted him in moving to England, including by sending legal documents there; (iii) in 2007 Mr. Chernukhin was seeking English matrimonial law advice in relation to his assets, prior to his marriage to Mrs. Chernukhin. With Teare J I do not think this is sufficient to amount to a choice for the purposes of article 3. They do not amount to a positive choice of law “expressed or demonstrated with reasonable certainty.”
Consequently Article 4 is engaged.
Presumption of characteristic performance. It was submitted on behalf of Mrs. Danilina (at 328) that England is the “most closely connected” country, under the presumption in article 4(2). It is said that the characteristic performance under the agreement was to create the relevant trust structure for dividing, managing and investing the assets. The performer of these obligations was Mr. Chernukhin, who was and is resident in England. Teare J agrees: at 330: the characteristic performance of the agreement was primarily to be performed by Mr. Chernukhin. On Mrs. Danilina’s case, Mr. Chernukhin was entrusted to divide, invest and structure significant liquid and illiquid assets, of which Mrs. Danilina was in large part unaware.
Displacement of the presumption? Mrs. Danilina then submits that this presumption should not lightly be displaced.
This section discusses a core challenge to Article 4, which is the continental European but mostly EU-driven quest for predictability, with the more common law oriented search for the ‘proper’ law of the contract. In Article 4 terms (similarly under the current Article Rome I): per Samcrete Egypt Engineers v Land Rover Exports Ltd  EWCA Civ 2019, at , “unless art.4(2) is regarded as a rule of thumb which requires a preponderance of contrary connecting factors to be established before that presumption can be disregarded, the intention of the Convention is likely to be subverted.” Nonetheless, “the presumption may most easily be rebutted in those cases where the place of performance differs from the place of business of the party whose performance is characteristic of the contract” (See Bank of Baroda v Vysya Bank Ltd.  2 Lloyd’s Rep 87, 93, in the context of a bank’s place of central administration).
Teare J leans on Samcrete Egypt Engineers and rejects the suggestions made (at 329) to displace the presumption. There were that “the principal subject-matter was assets based in Russia / assets acquired using money generated in Russia and while the parties were resident in Russia.” Further, the Agreement is said to be “akin” to a divorce arrangement pursuant to the Russian Family Code, and of a relationship which occurred primarily or exclusively in Russia. Finally, the Agreement as alleged would have involved performance by both Mrs. Danilina and Mr. Chernukhin, distributing (including, where relevant, by re-registration of shares and real property) their various assets. However (at 330) ‘there are indeed some factors that might otherwise point to Russia being “most closely connected” (and other factors pointing to other jurisdictions, such as the use of Channel Islands trusts and the fact that the agreement was allegedly concluded in Zurich), these factors are not, in my judgment, sufficient to displace the presumption in article.4(2).’
Proper law of the contract is English law (discussion of the Russian oral evidence issue is made obiter at 332 ff). Tear J does signal at 331 that per Article 4(3) at the merits stage, provision may have to be made for Russian law as the lex rei sitae, for some parts of the agreement. Eventually the High Court finds on the basis of English law that there was no 2007 Agreement – although there is an issue of breach of a trust agreement and that may be litigated.
Fun with Rome.
(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.4, Heading 3.2.6.
Article 3 Freedom of choice
1. A contract shall be governed by the law chosen by the parties. The choice must be expressed or demonstrated with reasonable certainty by the terms of the contract or the circumstances of the case. By their choice the parties can select the law applicable to the whole or a part only of the contract.
3. The fact that the parties have chosen a foreign law, whether or not accompanied by the choice of a foreign tribunal, shall not, where all the other elements relevant to the situation at the time of the choice are connected with one country only, prejudice the application of rules of the law at the country which cannot be derogated from by contract, hereinafter called ‘mandatory rules`.
Article 4 Applicable law in the absence of choice
1. To the extent that the law applicable to the contract has not been chosen in accordance with Article 3, the contract shall be governed by the law of the country with which it is most closely connected. Nevertheless, a separable part of the contract which has a closer connection with another country may by way of exception be governed by the law of that other country.
2. Subject to the provisions of paragraph 5 of this Article, it shall be presumed that the contract is most closely connected with the country where the party who is to effect the performance which is characteristic of the contract has, at the time of conclusion of the contract, his habitual residence, or, in the case of a body corporate or unincorporate, its central administration. However, if the contract is entered into in the course of that party’s trade or profession, that country shall be the country in which the principal place of business is situated or, where under the terms of the contract the performance is to be effected through a place of business other than the principal place of business, the country in which that other place of business is situated.
3. Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph 2 of this Article, to the extent that the subject matter of the contract is a right in immovable property or a right to use immovable property it shall be presumed that the contract is most closely connected with the country where the immovable property is situated.
5. Paragraph 2 shall not apply if the characteristic performance cannot be determined, and the presumptions in paragraphs 2, 3 and 4 shall be disregarded if it appears from the circumstances as a whole that the contract is more closely connected with another country.
Marcus Teo has excellent analysis of Shanghai Turbo Enterprises Ltd v Liu Ming  SGHC 172. The issue is well-known in contract law as such and takes one or two special forms in conflicts: what is the fate of a contract as a whole, and /or of contractual clauses individually, when part of a clause is defective.
In the case at issue, the relevant contractual clause read
“This Agreement shall be governed by the laws of Singapore/or People’s Republic of China and each of the parties hereto submits to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the Courts of Singapore/or People’s Republic of China.”
As far as the choice of court part of this clause is concerned, non-exclusive choice of court comes with strings attached, depending on the laws of the States concerned: under the editorship of Mary Keyes, Michiel Poesen and I have contributed to an extensive comparative volume on same wich is forthcoming. However for choice of law one need not look at the specific laws of a State to appreciate that this clause thus formulated is simply a lame duck. No clear choice of law is made at all. The pragmatic solution is to ignore the useless clause and determine the proper law of the contract in the absence of a valid expression of parties’ autonomy. Yet conceptually an argument can, and has been made that to do so ignores the very high relevance of the lex contractus in the very contract formation – a conceptual quagmire which in EU law is addressed by Rome I’s ‘bootstrap’ principle.
In the case at issue, the High Court follows a pro-validation approach (favor contractus): the invalidity of the choice of law clause does not affect the formation of the main contract. A commercially sensible solution which Marcus analysis critically in excellent detail.
(Handbook of) EU Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.7.
Thank you Jeffrey Neuburger for flagging Wiseley v Amazon in the US Federal Court of Appeal (9th circuit). Jeffrey has excellent overview and analysis so I will suffice with identifying a few tags: the issue of click-wrap agreements (when does one agree to GTCs contained in pop-ups and hyperlinks and the like); application of a putable law to a contract (the von Munchausen or ‘bootstrap’ principle); comparative dispute resolution law: how would EU law look at the issues? Have fun.
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.
Which strap on which boot? CJEU rejects von Munchausen in Nikiforidis, without suggesting alternative. And it leaves effet utile stranded in the mud.
As my review of Szpunar AG’s Opinion in C-135/15 Nikiforidis highlighted, on the issue of temporal applicability to continued contracts, the AG suggested along the lines of Rome I Article 10’s regime (the von Munchausen or the ‘bootstrap’ principle) that the lex causae has to determine the moment of ‘conclusion’.
The employment relationship at issue is conducted in Germany and subject to German law, which does not permit reductions in remuneration similar to those to which the Hellenic Republic had recourse (as a result of austerity).
The Court held last week and points out (at 20) that if the Rome I Regulation did not apply to the main proceedings, Article 34 of the EGBGB (the relevant provisions of residual German private international law concerning contractual relationships) would permit it to take into account the overriding mandatory provisions of another State. Provisions like those are exactly why the UK and Luxembourg in particular (concerned about financial services contracts subject to their laws) insisted on Article 9 Rome I seriously constraining the room for manoeuvre of the forum.
Different from its AG, the Court squarely rejects (at 30) any role here for Article 10. In support, it refers to the original proposal of the European Commission with a view to the adoption of what eventually became Rome I. COM(2005) 650 referred to ‘contractual obligations’: ‘‘contractual obligations arising after its entry into application’; as opposed to the Regulation’s eventual use of ‘‘contracts’ concluded as from 17 December 2009.
At 34: ‘Whilst the reference, proposed by the Commission, to contractual obligations arising after the entry into application of that regulation covered, in addition to contracts concluded after its entry into application, the future effects of contracts concluded before then, that is to say, obligations arising from the latter after then, this is not so in the case of the wording of Article 28 of the Rome I Regulation, which covers exclusively contracts concluded on or after 17 December 2009, the date on which that regulation became applicable pursuant to Article 29 thereof. It follows that, contrary to what the referring court envisages, any agreement by the contracting parties, after 16 December 2009, to continue performance of a contract concluded previously cannot have the effect of making the Rome I Regulation applicable to that contractual relationship without thwarting the clearly expressed intention of the EU legislature.’
Now, I have admittedly only quickly scanned the travaux preparatoires in writing up this post, yet I do think the Court’s conclusion on this point may be misguided. It was Parliament which introduced ‘contracts’ as opposed to ‘contractual obligations’. It did so in response to the EC’s proposed sentence which read in full
‘It shall apply to contractual obligations arising after its entry into application. However, for contractual obligations arising before its entry into application, this Regulation shall apply where its provisions have the effect of making the same law applicable as would have been applicable under the Rome Convention of 1980.’
Parliament proposed lifting the first sentence into a separate Article and to drop the second sentence altogether, citing ‘Unlike in the case of torts and delicts, contracts are entered into deliberately and voluntarily. It is essential for the parties to know that the provisions on applicable law contained in this Regulation will apply only to contracts concluded after its date of application. Therefore proceedings brought after the date of application concerning contracts concluded before that date will apply the Rome Convention.’
This intervention therefore I believe was targeted at avoiding debates on equality between Rome I and Rome Convention outcomes. No indication was given that the change from ‘contractual obligations’ to ‘contract’ was of any specific relevance for the debate.
However, in the end that discussion in my view does not really matter because the Court itself does subsequently admit that its observation, that the Regulation cannot mean that ‘any, even minor, variation made by the parties, on or after 17 December 2009, to a contract initially concluded before that date were sufficient to bring that contract within the scope of the Rome I Regulation’ (at 35) , should not negate that
‘the possibility remains, as the Commission has pointed out in its written observations, that a contract concluded before 17 December 2009 may be subject, on or after that date, to a variation agreed between the contracting parties of such magnitude that it gives rise not to the mere updating or amendment of the contract but to the creation of a new legal relationship between the contracting parties, so that the initial contract should be regarded as having been replaced by a new contract, concluded on or after that date, for the purposes of Article 28 of the Rome I Regulation.’ (at 37).
Whether such ‘new legal relationship’ has been formed in casu, is down to the national court to decide. The CJEU does not give any indication whatsoever of what law is to guide that court in that decision. A European ius commune? I don’t see it. Lex fori? Perhaps. But that would encourage forum shopping. Lex causae? But the Court had dismissed Article 10 of having any relevance. I am at a loss.
Now, to the question of overriding mandatory requirements (please refer again to my review of Szpunar AG’s Opinion for context): here the Court I believe misses the mark. After pointing out, justifiably (and in contrast with the AG), that Article 9 needs to be interpreted restrictively, it holds that ‘the list, in Article 9 of the Rome I Regulation, of the overriding mandatory provisions to which the court of the forum may give effect is exhaustive. (at 49).
This means Article 9 of the Rome I Regulation must be interpreted ‘as precluding the court of the forum from applying, as legal rules, overriding mandatory provisions other than those of the State of the forum or of the State where the obligations arising out of the contract have to be or have been performed. Consequently, since, according to the referring court, Mr Nikiforidis’s employment contract has been performed in Germany, and the referring court is German, the latter cannot in this instance apply, directly or indirectly, the Greek overriding mandatory provisions which it sets out in the request for a preliminary ruling.’ (at 50).
But then, at 51:
‘On the other hand, Article 9 of the Rome I Regulation does not preclude overriding mandatory provisions of a State other than the State of the forum or the State where the obligations arising out of the contract have to be or have been performed from being taken into account as a matter of fact, in so far as this is provided for by a substantive rule of the law that is applicable to the contract pursuant to the regulation.‘
And in conclusion, at 53:
Accordingly, the referring court has the task of ascertaining whether Laws No 3833/2010 and No 3845/2010 are capable of being taken into account when assessing the facts of the case which are relevant in the light of the substantive law applicable to the employment contract at issue in the main proceedings.
Err, here I really do not follow. Surely such de facto circumvention of Article 9’s restrictive scope, negates its effet utile. If and when a law other than the lex causae may be taken into account ‘as a matter of fact’, the Rome modus operandi is to say so: see in this respect in particular Article 17 Rome II. And what would ‘taking into account as a matter of fact’ mean for the case at issue?
Now you see it, now you don’t. In West Tankers the Court took effet utile to extreme length. Here it arguably entirely negates it. I am not convinced.
(Handbook of) European Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016. Chapter 2, Heading 184.108.40.206, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.5 , heading 3.2.8.
In Toyota v Prolat, the High Court was asked by Toyota to confirm the existence of an agreement between parties to arbitrate. The arbitral panel, already seized by Toyota, agreed that it would be best for the Court preemptively to settle this issue since it suspects any ruling by the tribunal itself will be subject to litigation by Prolat. The agreement (existence of which is disputed by Prolat; it had employed an authorised agent, whose signings on behalf of Prolat are disputed) concerns the delivery of sugar by Toyota to Prolat. Prolat objects to the jurisdiction of the tribunal. It has itself started proceedings in Naples for damages for various alleged wrongdoing by Toyota, whether for breach of contract or tort.
The interest of the case for this blog lies in particular with the concurrent proceedings in Italy and the UK. Should the UK decline? The case is subject to Regulation 44/2001, not to the recast. Cooke J holds that ‘This Court is not being asked to interfere with the functions of the Italian court as no form of anti-suit injunction is being sought against Prolat. This Court is being asked to determine whether or not there is an arbitration agreement and to make a declaration in the light of its conclusion.‘ West Tankers is therefore distinguished. Would, had it applied, Regulation 1215/2012 made a difference? Cooke J held that it would not: ‘Article 1(2)(d) remains unchanged from the earlier Regulation but is more fully explained in paragraph 12 of the Preamble. I was also referred to Article 73 which states that the Regulation will not affect the application of the New York Convention. (…)‘ (at 16)
He concludes ibidem ‘Although it is not yet in force, it was suggested that some might regard the new Regulation as declaratory of the existing state of the law. . The jury on that, as is well-known, is out.
Cooke J further explores the issue of the applicable law to the contract per its putative law (Article 10(1) Rome I). Firm and justifiable conclusion (at 18) there, is: English law.