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Sabbagh v Khoury. The jurisdictional gift that keeps on giving. In today’s instalment: the possibility for qualified acknowledgment of service (prorogation) following claimant’s alleged concessions, and amended claim.

Sabbagh v Khoury [2019] EWHC 3004 (Comm) evidently builds upon the High Court and Court of Appeal previous judgments. Pro memoria: claimant established jurisdiction against all the defendants she wished to sue in relation to each element of her claim. Following judgment by the Court of Appeal and the refusal of permission to appeal further by the Supreme Court, the defendants had to decide whether to acknowledge service and accept the jurisdiction of the English Courts or to refuse to acknowledge service.

That jurisdiction should be debated at all was the result of claimant wanting to amend her claim 오피|오피사이트|오피닷컴, and having earlier been partially granted such permission.  오피|오피사이트|오피닷컴At 13: each defendant decided to acknowledge service and accept the jurisdiction of the English Courts but in each case they purported to qualify the terms on which they acknowledged service, hinging particularly on 오피|오피사이트|오피닷컴CPR Part 14: Admissions, and suggesting that 오피|오피사이트|오피닷컴a “ 오피|오피사이트|오피닷컴concession” made on claimant’s behalf that certain Share Sale Agreements relied on by the defendants were “ 오피|오피사이트|오피닷컴existent, valid and effective“, should have an impact on jurisdiction. 오피|오피사이트|오피닷컴

It is interesting to see the qualifications verbatim: at 13: ‘Thus in its letter of 26 March 2018, CMS Cameron McKenna Nabarro Olswang LLP on behalf of the Sabbagh defendants qualified their Acknowledgement of Service as being “… confined to the existing claims set out in the Claim Form, to the limited extent that the Court of Appeal accepted the English court’s jurisdiction over such claims, but subject to the numerous concessions your client has made including but not limited to her explicit abandonment of any claim to be presently entitled to or for delivery up of shares …”. Jones Day, the solicitors then acting for the first defendant similarly qualified his Acknowledgement of Service – see their letter of 26 March 2018. Baker McKenzie qualified the other Khoury defendants’ Acknowledgement of Service as being “… only in respect of the two claims as set out in the Claimant’s Claim Form … and is subject to the numerous concessions the Claimant has made to date …” and added that: “We understand that the Claimant intends to seek to amend her Particulars of Claim and our clients’ position as to whether any such amendment(s), if allowed, impact on the jurisdiction of the court over our clients as regards any claims other than those to which this Acknowledgement of Service is filed is fully reserved, including as to jurisdiction and/or the arbitrability of any such amended claims”. In the circumstances, it is probable that the amendment Baker McKenzie had in mind was one substantially in terms of the draft re-amended Particulars of Claim that had been placed before the Court of Appeal.’

At 21 ff Pelling J discusses the relationship between the amended claim, the earlier findings on jurisdiction, and the ‘concession’, leading at length eventually to hold that there was no impact of the concession on the extent of jurisdiction,

As Pelling J notes at 1 in fine: ‘Even allowing for the value at risk in this litigation all this is obviously disproportionate.’ One assumes the role of various counsel in the alleged concessions made earlier, must have had an impact on the energy with which the issue was advocated.

The case will now proceed to trial, lest there be any other jurisdictional challenges.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.12.1

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Clearlake Shipping: anti-suit to support choice of court alive and well outside Brussels Ia.

In Clearlake Shipping Pte Ltd v Xiang Da Marine Pte Ltd [2019] EWHC 2284 (Comm) Andrew Burrows QC essentially halted an attempt by Xiang Da Marine to construct third party proceedings in Singapore so as to avoid choice of court pro England following a series of contracts relating to the chartering of a vessel.

The proceedings, which the interim anti-suit injunctions are restraining, are third party proceedings brought in Singapore by Xiang Da against Clearlake and Gunvor. Those third party proceedings have arisen in relation to an action in Singapore against Xiang Da brought by China-Base Ningbo Group Co Ltd (hereinafter ‘China-Base’). In so far as Xiang Da is liable to pay damages or otherwise suffers loss by reason of the claim brought against it by China-Base, it seeks an indemnity or contribution from Clearlake and Gunvor as third parties. (The claim by China-Base against Xiang Da in Singapore in the meantime has been discontinued. But the third party proceedings remain extant; and those third party proceedings could still be used by Xiang Da to seek to recover loss suffered by reason of the claim brought against it by China-Base.)

The judgment is best consulted for further context; RPC have analysis here, 22 Essex Street here. The judgment is a good reminder of the law on anti-suit injunctions. One can also appreciate that given privity of contract, anti-suit granted viz-a-vis third party proceedings must be treated with caution. Yet restrained application of same is a good way to discipline overly creative proceedings designed simply to circumvent choice of court (and which with respect to the third party involved are vexatious or oppressive).

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.1.

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P v P: Transgender application for declaration of valid Marriage.

[2019] EWHC 3105 (Fam) P v P is a case which does not have private international law implications – and I am not a family law expert. I simply flag the issues briefly for transgender family law issues do feature repeatedly in PIL scholarship and current case may become a point of reference.

In 1990, when 34 years of age, the applicant ‘AP’ underwent gender re-assignment surgery, transitioning from female to male. It follows that he had lived as a male for nearly 19 years at the point when he married JP who is a woman, and who was born a woman. At the time of the marriage in 2009, AP had not obtained a Gender Recognition Certificate (referred to in the judgment as a ‘GRC’), and his birth certificate had not been changed; his birth certificate showed him still as a female. GRC was not in existence in 1990, at the time of the transition.

In 2017, AP contacted the Department for Work and Pensions (‘DWP’) raising queries about his pension entitlement. He was advised that his marital status could not be recognised. Despite a letter from AP’s general practitioner in 1990 confirming that AP had “now had surgery and other treatment for gender reassignment”, he was still legally female and was so at the time he purported to enter into the marriage with JP. AP understood the advice from the DWP to be that if he wished the marriage to be recognised as lawful, he would have to either obtain a declaration of validity or he would need to ‘re-marry’ her, but legally as a man.

AP therefore applied to the court to have the 2009 marriage declared lawful: “… so that I can continue to remain married to my wife. I do not wish to have my marriage declared void. This would be emotionally very distressing for us both.”  오피|오피사이트|오피닷컴

Cobb J (concluding at 73 in fine that ‘I am conscious that this outcome will be very distressing to AP and JP’) reviews ECHR authority in particular Goodwin v UK (2002), but also the CJEU (MB v. Secretary of State for Work and Pensions; and C-673/16, Coman v Romania and in the end held that applicant’s Article 8 rights had not been infringed by the refusal of application of lawfulness, at 54 ff and summarising at 65 ff. At 66 he lists a number of initiatives applicant could have taken to make use of the UK’s provision for a legal mechanism for the recognition of the relationship of AP and JP. Absence of said provisions by the UK might have led to a finding of Article 8 ECHR breach – but availability of measures remedying the 1990 absence of GRC seem to have counted heavily to applicant’s disadvantage.

Geert.

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Fasten your seatbelts. Etihad v Air Berlin puts limits of EU law in applying Article 25 in the spotlight. On ‘particular legal relationship’ in choice of court, and asymmetric jurisdiction clauses in applications for stay.

[2019] EWHC 3107 (Comm) Etihad v Air Berlin (officially: Etihad Airways v Prof Dr Lucas Flöther, who is the insolvency practitioner for Air Berlin) raises the issues of whether the relevant dispute arises in connection with the “particular legal relationship” between the parties, as required by Article 25 Brussels Ia, and the question whether so-called “asymmetric” jurisdiction clauses fall within Article 31 of Brussels Recast, an issue which I reviewed at the time of Commerzbank v Liquimar. (This in the very week that Michiel Poesen and I received copy of Mary Footer’s edited volume on optional choice of court, with our Chapter on Belgium).

Those reading this post and the judgment had better hold on – for this is more than just a quick safety briefing – the required ‘good arguable case’ standard is responsible for the extensive discussion of the issues, perhaps not entirely in line with the instruction for conciseness per the Supreme Court in Vedanta.

Etihad acquired a 2.99% stake in Air Berlin in August 2011 and, in December 2011, increased its shareholding to 29.21% pursuant to an agreement governed by English law and contained an exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of the English courts. Between 28 and 30 April 2017, Etihad entered into a number of agreements for the purposes of providing Air Berlin with financial support. One of these was a facility agreement which contains the discussed jurisdiction clause:

33.1 JURISDICTION 

33.1.1 The courts of England have exclusive jurisdiction to settle any disputes arising out of or in connection with this Agreement (including a dispute relating to non-contractual obligations arising from or in connection with this Agreement, or a dispute regarding the existence, validity or termination of this Agreement) (a “Dispute“).

33.2.2 The Parties agree that the courts of England are the most appropriate and convenient courts to settle Disputes and accordingly no Party will argue to the contrary.

33.1.3 This Clause 33 is for the benefit of the Lender only. As a result, the Lender shall not be prevented from taking proceedings relating to a Dispute in any other courts with jurisdiction. To the extent allowed by law, the Lender may take concurrent proceedings in any number of jurisdictions.

In a letter dated 28 April 2017 from Mr James Hogan, the then President and CEO of Etihad Aviation Group PJSC, to the directors of Air Berlin (the “Comfort Letter”), which provided as follows:  오피|오피사이트|오피닷컴

“For the purposes of the finalisation of the financial statements of Air Berlin plc for the year ended 31 December 2016, having had sight of your forecasts for the two years ending 31 December 2018, we confirm our intention to continue to provide the necessary support to Air Berlin to enable it to meet its financial obligations as they fall due for payment for the foreseeable future and in any event for 18 months from the date of this letter. Our commitment is evidenced by our historic support through loans and obtaining financing for Air Berlin”.

In German proceedings, started first, Air Berlin advances two alternative claims against Etihad under German Law: i) A claim for breach of the Comfort Letter on the basis that the Comfort Letter is legally binding. ii) Alternatively, if the Comfort Letter is not legally binding, a pre contractual claim in culpa in contrahendo, on the basis that Etihad used its negotiating power during the negotiations between the parties to avoid providing a clearly binding statement whilst, at the same time, inspiring the trust of Air Berlin that it would adhere to the commitment in the Comfort Letter.

Clearly Air Berlin considers the comfort letter a separate ‘agreement’ or ‘contract’ to which the widely formulated choice of court and law provisions of the Facility Agreement do not apply.

In the English proceedings, Etihad seeks the following declarations:

a) The claims made and declarations sought in the German Proceedings are subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the English court within Article 25 of the Judgments Regulation, because, on its true construction, they are within the scope of the exclusive jurisdiction clause contained in the 2017 €350m Facility Agreement (the one with the jurisdiction clause discussed above);

b) The claims made and declarations sought in the German Proceedings are governed by English Law on the true construction of the governing law clause in the Facility Agreement, an implied agreement between the same parties and/or the application of Rome I and/or Rome II;

c) The Claimant is not liable for breach of the Comfort Letter, as alleged in the German Proceedings, because that letter, on its true construction, did not create a legally binding promise to provide financial support to Air Berlin;

d) The Claimant is not liable on the basis of culpa in contrahendo, as alleged in the German Proceedings, because the facts and matters relied on in the German Proceedings do not give rise to a cause of action known to English law; and

e) Further, and in any event, the Claimant is not liable to the Defendant as alleged by the Defendant in the German Proceedings.

On Article 25 the list of authority was of course very long. On Article 31, reference was made for background in particular to Commerzbank AG v Liquimar Tankers Management Inc. in which Cranston J supported as I discussed at the time, the cover of asymmetric choice of court by Article 31.

On Article 25, 오피|오피사이트|오피닷컴 the

I. first point to discuss 오피|오피사이트|오피닷컴

was whether the choice of court agreement in the facilities agreement extended to the comfort letter. Etihad puts forward adopting the broad, purposive and commercial approach to interpreting such clauses which it suggests has been mandated by the English authorities, concluding the dispute arises out of or in connection with that agreement. Air Berlin emphasises that application of the standard of proof must take into account the EU law requirement that an exclusive jurisdiction clause under Article 25 must be “clearly and precisely” demonstrated.

At 56 ff Jacobs J first reiterates the jurisdiction clause relied upon, contained in the Facility Agreement, which is expressly governed by English law. Clause 32 of that agreement provides:  오피|오피사이트|오피닷컴“This Agreement and all non-contractual obligations arising from or connected with it are governed by English law”. The question of whether, as a matter of contractual interpretation, the clause conferring jurisdiction extends to claims in respect of the Comfort Letter and the related claims advanced in the German proceedings is to be determined by reference to English law. This may surprise uninitiated readers first reading Article 25 and relevant recitals, however to those with conflicts insight it will be well known that Article 25 merely scratches on the surface of the contractual depth of choice of court.  오피|오피사이트|오피닷컴

At 69 he sums up the principles (with reference to Fiona Trust), discusses them at length, and summarises at 102:

(i) the width of the jurisdiction clause in the Facility Agreement, (ii) the fact that the Comfort Letter was part of the overall support package where all relevant agreements between Etihad and Air Berlin were governed by English law with English jurisdiction clauses, (iii) the close connection between the Comfort Letter and the Facility Agreement in terms of the genesis of the Comfort Letter, (iv) Etihad’s good arguable case that the Comfort Letter did not create contractually binding obligations and was ancillary to the Facility Agreement, (v) the absence of any competing jurisdiction clause in any of the agreements within the support package, and the existence of English law and jurisdiction clauses in the relevant agreements as part of that package, and (vi) the reasonable foreseeability of disputes which required consideration of the Comfort Letter in conjunction with the Facility Agreement – all lead to the conclusion that the parties intended disputes arising in relation to the Comfort Letter to fall within the jurisdiction clause of the Facility Agreement.

Conclusion on this issue, at 109: ‘interpreting the jurisdiction agreement in the Facility Agreement as a matter of English law, there is a good arguable case that (i) the jurisdiction clause in the Facility Agreement is applicable to the Comfort Letter and any non-contractual claim in connection therewith, and (ii) the claim commenced by Air Berlin in Germany falls within the scope of that clause.’

On Article 25, 오피|오피사이트|오피닷컴 the

I. second point to discuss 오피|오피사이트|오피닷컴 at 110 ff was the requirement in Article 25 for the dispute to arise “in connection with a particular legal relationship” – a condition which Etihad must meet separately from the above conclusion that as a matter of English law, the claims made in Germany fell within the scope of the jurisdiction agreement in the Facility Agreement. Arguments here to some extent overlap with the strength or otherwise of the connection between the Facility Agreement and the Comfort Letter, discussed above. Reference here clearly was made to Airbus and the CJEU in Powell Duffryn. In the latter the CJEU held ‘”This requirement aims to limit the effect of an agreement conferring jurisdiction to disputes originating from the legal relationship in connection with which the agreement was concluded. It seeks to prevent a party from being surprised by the referral to a specified court of all disputes which arise in the relationships which it has with the other party and which may originate in relationships other than that in connection with which the agreement conferring jurisdiction was concluded”. The principles of Powel Duffryn were also followed in the equally seminal CDC case.

At 134 ff Jacobs J dismisses the argument that the way in which a particular claim is formulated in the foreign proceedings is determinative of the issue of whether the dispute arises in relation to a particular relationship. Rather: ‘it is obviously necessary to look at the nature of the claim made in those foreign proceedings. It is clear that what is then required is for the court to consider the substance of the claim that is made.’ At 136 ff he lists the arguments leading him to the conclusion that there is ‘no doubt that the dispute concerning the Comfort Letter can fairly (and certainly to a good arguable case standard) be said to originate from [the borrower /lender] relationship.’

 

The final issue to consider then was Article 31(2) 오피|오피사이트|오피닷컴: “2. Without prejudice to Article 26, where a court of a Member State on which an agreement as referred to in Article 25 confers exclusive jurisdiction is seised, any court of another Member State shall stay the proceedings until such time as the court seised on the basis of the agreement declares that it has no jurisdiction under the agreement.”

The issue is therefore whether the jurisdiction clause in the present case is a clause which “confers exclusive jurisdiction” within the meaning of Article 31(2). A related question is whether the English court can properly be described as being “seised on the basis of” such exclusive jurisdiction agreement within the meaning of Article 31 (2). Air Berlin says “no” to both questions (on the first, purely on the basis of the clause being asymmetric), and Etihad says “yes”.

Reference is made to Codere, Commerzbank, leading to a firm finding that the clause is exclusive in casu, for it is (in prof Fentimann’s words) ‘exclusive against a counterparty’ and in Louise Mellett’s words (ICLQ, referenced in the judgment)

‘”In an asymmetric agreement, the borrower has promised not to sue anywhere other than the chosen jurisdiction. The question of whether the other party did or did not agree to do the same does not arise when the bank is seeking to enforce the agreement and should be irrelevant. Thus, the point is not so much that “considered as a whole” [asymmetric agreements] are agreements conferring exclusive jurisdiction, as the judge put it in Commerzbank. Rather, each obligation can be considered on its own; the clause includes a promise by the borrower not to sue in any jurisdiction and that promise is capable of being protected by Article 31(2). Each different obligation necessarily falls to be considered separately and the fact that the bank is not under a similar obligation is neither here nor there.”

(Further scholarship discussed includes Dickinson and Lein, and Ahmed; the Hague Convention is also discussed, with reference to Clearlake.

Reference to the CJEU on the Article 31 issue, requested by Air Berlin, is dismissed, something which may have to be reconsidered by the Court of Appeal. But even on the Article 25 discussion (I am thinking in particular of the relevance or not of the formulation of the claim), more CJEU authority in my view would be welcome.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Ch.2, Heading 2.2.9, Heading 2.2.9.4.1, Heading 2.2.9.5.

 

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Hiscox v Weyerhaeuser. The High Court is not easily impressed by pending foreign proceedings in anti-suit application (pro arbitration).

A quick note on Hiscox v Weyerhaeuser [2019] EWHC 2671 (Comm), in which Knowles J was asked to continue an anti-suit injunction restraining Weyerhaeuser from continuing proceedings in the US courts and ordering parties to turn to arbitration. He obliged.

In April 2018 Weyerhaeuser filed proceedings in the US District Court (Western District of Washington at Seattle)for a declaratory judgment in respect of certain of its insurance excess policies in the tower of excess liability. Weyerhaeuser sought, among other things, a declaration that there is no valid arbitration agreement applicable to any coverage disputes between itself and various defendant insurers and that the US District Court is the appropriate forum for any such disputes.

Knowles J lists the various proceedings pending in the US however particularly in the light of all parties being established businesses, is not impressed by arguments of comity or fairness to restrain the English courts from further involvement in the matter. He expresses the hope and expectation that the US courts will come to the same conclusion as himself, in light of the contractual provisions.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.1.

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Air transport. The CJEU in Adriano Guaitoli v Easyjet. The not always clear delineation between the jurisdictional rules of the Brussels and Montreal regimes.

C-213/18 Adriano Guaitoli et al v Easyjet concerns the clearly complex relationship between the Brussels Ia jurisdictional regime, the 1999 Montreal Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage by Air, and the EU’s flight compensation Regulation 261/2004.

Montreal Article 33 determines which court has jurisdiction to hear an action for damages against an air carrier falling within the scope of that instrument. The reference has been made in the context of a cross-border dispute between an airline and a number of passengers, in relation to sums claimed by those passengers both by way of standardised compensation under Regulation 261/2004 and by way of individualised compensation for damage caused to them by the cancellation of an outward and a return flight, both operated by that airline.

Saugmandsgaard ØE had advised that the two instruments should be applied distributively, according to the nature of the relevant head of claim. The Court has followed: the court of a Member State hearing an action seeking to obtain both compliance with the flat-rate and standardised rights provided for in Regulation No 261/2004, and compensation for further damage falling within the scope of the Montreal Convention, must assess its jurisdiction, on the first head of claim, in the light of Article 7(1) BIa and, on the second head of claim, having regard to Article 33 Montreal.

This is also the result of Articles 67 and Article 71(1) BIa which allow the application of rules of jurisdiction relating to specific matters which are contained respectively in Union acts or in conventions to which the Member States are parties. Since air transport is such a specific matter, the rules of jurisdiction provided for by the Montreal Convention must be applicable within the regulatory framework laid down by it.

Note that per Article 17(3) BIa the consumer section ‘shall not apply to a contract of transport other than a contract which, for an inclusive price, provides for a combination of travel and accommodation’ (see also C‑464/18 Ryanair). The rule of special jurisdiction for the supply of services, A7(1)(b) BIa, designates as the court having jurisdiction to deal with a claim for compensation based on air transport contract of persons, at the applicant’s choice, that court which has territorial jurisdiction over the place of departure or place of arrival of the aircraft, as those places are agreed in that transport contract; see also C-88/17 Zurich Insurance.

The Court further held that Article 33 Montreal, like A7BIa, leads to the direct appointment of the territorially competent court within a Montreal State: it does not just just identify a State with jurisdiction as such.

The combined application of these rules inevitable means that unless claimants are happy to sue in Mozaik fashion, consolidation of the case will most likely take place in the domicile of the airline. In the Venn diagram of options, that is in most cases the only likely overlap.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2, Heading 2.2.11.1.

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NMBS v Mbutuku Kanyeba et al. A very relaxed CJEU on the notion of ‘contract’ (in EU transport law).

To scholars of private international law, the CJEU judgment last week in Joined cases C-349/18 to C-351/18 NMBS v Mbutuku Kanyeba et al might seem like ending us up in a parallel universe, where unlike in conflicts land, core concepts of private law are understood without much ado.

Additional surcharges were claimed against claimants for having travelled by train without a transport ticket. For either Regulation 1371/2007 on rail passengers’ rights and obligations and Directive 93/13 on unfair terms in consumer contracts, the existence of a ‘contract’ is a clear prerequisite for the application at all of these rules. The AG had opined that the EU rules at issue did not define ‘contract’ and therefore had to defer to the applicable national laws.

The CJEU however has much less hesitation, noting at 36 that ‘the word ‘contract’ is generally understood to designate an agreement by consensus intended to produce legal effects. Secondly, in the context of the field covered by that regulation and in the light of the wording of that provision, that effect consists principally in the obligation imposed on the rail undertaking to provide to the passenger one or more transport services and the obligation imposed on the passenger to pay the price of that transport, unless the service is provided free of charge’.

The Court gives no further explanation. How a ‘contract’ in this context can be ‘generally understood’ as being what the Court says it is (with all the uncertainty relating e.g. to ‘consensus’ and to the reciprocity element it seems to imply) must be a surprise to all those current and past studying ‘contract’ in the conflict of laws. Of course, in the EU rules at issue there is no delineation with ‘tort’ to consider, and the Court in the further paras seems to hint at adopting a flexible interpretation so as to protect passengers (without a contract, they have no rights), the matter of factly approach to the definition must be surprising.

Geert.

 

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