German Federal Court Rules on Jurisdiction Clauses and Mandatory Rules

Beatrice Deshayes is a member of the Paris and the Cologne bars and a partner at Hertslet, Wolfer and Heintz, Paris.

On September 5th, 2012, the German Federal Court (BGH) upheld the inapplicability of a jurisdiction clause in an agency contract that gave jurisdiction to the Courts of Virginia to rule on the agent’s right to indemnity after termination of the agency contract.

The dispute arose out of an agency contract between an American firm and a German commercial agent acting in several European countries. The contract provided for the exclusive jurisdiction of the Courts of Virginia and for the application of US laws. It also provided for an exclusion of indemnity in case of termination of the contract.

Arguing that the Courts of Virginia would apply solely their own law, the Court of Appeal of Stuttgart refused to enforce the jurisdiction clause, stating that doing so would lead to the rejection of the claim for indemnity and to an obvious violation of Art. 17 and 18 of Directive 86/653 EEC. The defendant wanted to submit a request for a preliminary ruling before the ECJ, however the BGH ruled that there was no need for such a request. 

Th BGH ruled that there is no doubt that Directive 86/653 gives the possibility to “refuse to recognize” such a clause, as:

  • the law chosen by the parties (here, the law of Virginia) does not provide for mandatory indemnity or compensation for the agent after termination of the contract;
  • the foreign court will not apply the mandatory provisions of European and German law, and will reject the agent’s claim.

The BGH stated that such refusal of recognition protects the international mandatory scope of these provisions, as defined by the ECJ in the Ingmar decision dated November 9th, 2000 (C-381/98).

Another issue raised durig the litigation was whether the partial ineffectiveness of the jurisdiction clause shall lead to the incompetence of the US courts for the entire litigation. In addition to an indemnity based on the termination of the agency contract, the agent had claimed for unpaid commission stemming from the contract. The defendant wanted the BGH to ask the ECJ for an additional preliminary ruling regarding the jurisdiction clause: if it was considered partially ineffective because of the above mentioned reasons, would it have to be invalidated for the whole in order to guarantee the “effet utile”?

The BGH ruled that this question must only be discussed on the basis of German law, as Art. 17-19 of Directive 86/653 EEC concern only the claim for indemnity after termination of contract and not the right for pending commissions.

This seems to be a very strict but coherent approach to the jurisdiction question by the BGH and may lead to the non-application of foreign jurisdiction clauses in many cases when agents carry out their activity in Europe.

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About Gilles Cuniberti

Gilles Cuniberti is a professor of law at the University of Luxembourg. Previously, he taught for 10 years at the Faculty of Law of Paris 12 University (Paris Val-de-Marne). His primary teaching and research interests are comparative law, conflict of laws, international arbitration and international litigation. He is a regular contributor to the Journal de Droit International (Clunet). He has been a visiting faculty at Duke Law School, Renmin University of China and Sheffield Hallam University. He holds a Doctorate in Law from Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne University and an LL.M. degree from Yale Law School. He was also a Paris-Oxford Doctoral Program Scholar for a year at Trinity College, Oxford. He is admitted to the Paris Bar and practiced on a part-time basis in the Paris office of a leading English firm from 1999 to 2004. SELECTED ARTICLES: Beyond Contract - The Case for Default Arbitration in International commercial Disputes, 32 FORDHAM INT'L L.J. 417 (2009) Le principe de territorialité des voies d'exécution, JOURNAL DU DROIT INTERNATIONAL 2008.963 The Recognition of Judgments Lacking Reasons in Europe: Access to Justice, Foreign Court Avoidance and Efficiency, 57 INT’L & COMP. L. Q. 25 (2008) L’apprezzamento dell’efficacia della clausola arbitrale da parte del giudice statale : un conflitto tra Italia e Francia, 21 DIRITTO COMMERCIO INTERNAZIONALE 2007.789 (with M. Winkler) E-mail: gilles.cuniberti@conflictoflaws.net

One thought on “German Federal Court Rules on Jurisdiction Clauses and Mandatory Rules

  1. Cedric Vanleenhove

    Very interesting judgment.
    One thing that strikes me, and perhaps this is caused by my lack of knowledge of the subject, is how the BGH looked beyond the jurisdictional clause and into the applicable law.
    Is the issue of mandatory provisions not something that only comes up when addressing the applicable law phase? Is a court allowed to “calculate” the outcome in the foreign court as to the determination of the applicable law and in doing so reject the jurisdictional clause as it will indirectly lead to the application of a foreign law that contradicts EU mandatory provisions?

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