More from the OWB bunker saga. Agency and conversion.

In The Cosco Felixstowe Shipowners ordered bunkers from D2, a bunker trader in Singapore who had contracted with OWBS to supply the bunkers. OWBS had in turn contracted with OWBC who had contracted with the plaintiff who physically supplied the bunkers to the vessel. Leave was granted pursuant to serve a writ out of the jurisdiction on D2 and OWBC under Order 11 rule 1(1)(f) of the Rules of the High Court that D2 had committed a tort (ie the tort of conversion) within the jurisdiction, and/or under rule 1(1)(d) on the basis that it was arguable that OWBC had entered the contract with P as agent for D2.

The Hong Kong Court of First Instance (Deputy High Court Judge Le Pichon) [2016] HKCFI 492 – 18 March 2016, has now denied D2’s application to set aside the grant of leave. It was arguable that there was a material difference between the terms of OWB’s contract in The Res Cogitans and P’s standard terms in the present case in that the latter provided no unambiguous authorisation to consume the bunkers for propulsion purposes prior to payment. The conversion would be constituted by OWBS’ contractual obligation to procure use of the bunkers before payment had been made. A clause in P’s contract that the buyer and the vessel owner would only use the bunkers for the operation of the vessel did not amount to consent by P to immediate consumption of the bunkers.

It was also arguable that there was an agency chain running from D2 to OWBC who contracted with the physical supplier, in which case there would be a contract with P made by an agent within the jurisdiction.

 

Piggy back jurisdiction under CMR? The Supreme Court answers ‘No’

Where jurisdiction is established over the first road carrier under the CMR, can proceedings against successive carriers be brought in that forum? In British American Tobacco Switzerland S.A. and Others v Exel Europe Ltd [2013] EWCA Civ 1319, [2014] 1 Lloyd’s Rep. 503, the Court of Appeal said ‘yes’. The Supreme Court has now reversed the decision, [2015] UKSC 65.

The cargo owner entered into a CMR contract of carriage with a carrier, based in England, and agreed exclusive English jurisdiction for disputes arising out of the contract of carriage. The claims arose out of thefts of cigarettes from two cargo containers while in the custody of Dutch sub-contractors, the first in Belgium, the second near Copenhagen. The cargo sued the first carrier and the two Dutch sub-carriers. An advantage of suing in England would be that recovery of customs duty is allowed in full under art. 23(4) CMR by the English courts.

Although it was entitled to bring proceedings in England against the first carrier, this was not the case as regards the successive carriers who did not fall within any of the grounds of jurisdiction in art. 31 of CMR. What about art. 34 which has the effect of joining a successive carrier to the contract of carriage on the terms of the consignment note? The jurisdiction clause did not appear in the consignment note and it would be contrary to principle to hold a party to a choice of court clause of which he had no express notice. Then there is art. 36, under which joint and several liability is imposed on the first, the last, and the guilty carrier. However, this was not to be interpreted to include an additional head of jurisdiction allowing for a defendant domiciled in one member state to be sued in the courts of the place where a co-defendant was domiciled. The 2001 Brussels Judgments Regulation did not provide any other basis for jurisdiction over the two sub-contractors or otherwise act as an aid to the interpretation of the CMR.

Lord Clarke and Lord Sumption both considered that the commercial logic of articles 34 and 36 points towards the recognition of a jurisdiction to receive claims against all three carriers in one set of proceedings. However, they agreed with Lord Mance that the language of the CMR clearly provides otherwise. The only way for a cargo owner to ensure that its claims against all the carriers that are potentially liable under art. 34 is to ensure that the jurisdiction clause in the head contract is expressly referred to in the consignment note.

Anti-suit injunctions (or rather anti-enforcement injunctions) again

An international high-net-worth employment case decided last week, Ecobank Transnational Inc v Tanoh [2015] EWCA Civ 1309 (accessible on the excellent BAILII website), has a good deal of meat for international transaction lawyers too. The CEO of a Togolese bank had a contract of employment governed by English law and with a provision for arbitration of differences in London under the UNCITRAL Rules. In early 2014, following a textbook exercise in corporate character assassination, he was fired. He immediately sued in Togo for wrongful dismissal, and shortly afterwards in the Ivory Coast for defamation, recovering a cool $11 million-odd in the former, and in the latter about $15 million. Both courts held that under their respective laws the arbitration provision could not deprive them of jurisdiction. The employer claimed arbitration, and in April 2015 sought an anti-enforcement injunction in respect of the Togolese and Ivorian proceedings (i.e. an anti-suit injunction for the time after judgment has been obtained). The CA held an anti-enforcement injunction available on principle, but upheld its refusal on the grounds of delay.

Essentially this judgment makes clear a number of points of very general application. First, s.32 of the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments Act 1982, dealing with the question of the recognition in England of foreign proceedings brought in breach of jurisdiction or arbitration agreements, is likely to precluded recognition of the relevant proceedings. Despite the exception to non-recognition where the jurisdiction / arbitration agreement is “illegal, void or unenforceable or was incapable of being performed”, it is irrelevant that an arbitration agreement is ineffective under the law of the place where the proceedings are brought or the law of the place where the contract was made. What matters is its enforceability under English law. Secondly, if people agree under a contract governed by English law to arbitrate disputes, the English courts will have little compunction where appropriate in granting anti-suit or anti-enforcement relief. Such relief is not as such a breach of the rules of comity: as Christopher Clarke LJ pertinently pointed out, the preservation of overseas judicial amour propre is not a particularly important aim these days. Thirdly, however, delay in seeking relief continues highly relevant, both on general equitable grounds and also because it is undesirable to render fruitless the expenditure of large amounts of curial time and litigants’ cash on ultimately unproductive proceedings abroad. In short, while anti-enforcement injunctions remain possible, in practice they are likely to be rare, as litigants will normally be expected to act earlier in the judicial process.

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Get your skates on for an anti-suit injunction

The English courts may be very willing on principle to give you an anti-suit injunction against someone who sues elsewhere while putting up two fingers to a binding London arbitration clause. But you must play your part and act quickly. You can’t lackadaisically ask the foreign court to decline jurisdiction and then seek to injunct the other guy in London several months later when it’s apparent that it won’t. A hapless shipowner found this out on his unlucky Friday 13. For details see Essar Shipping Ltd v Bank of China Ltd [2015] EWHC 3266 (Comm) (13 November 2015), available on BAILII.

AT