Forcing a Square Peg into a Round Hole – The Actio Pauliana and the Brussels Ia Regulation

Earlier today, the Court of Justice held that, under certain circumstances, special jurisdiction for an actio pauliana can be based on Art. 7(1) Brussels Ia (Case C-337/17 Feniks).

The actio pauliana is an instrument provided by the national laws of several EU member states that allows the creditor to challenge fraudulent acts by their debtor that have been committed to the creditor’s detriment. The ECJ already had several opportunities to decide on the availability of individual grounds of special jurisdiction for such an action, but has reliably denied their availability. In today’s decision however, the Court confirmed the availability of special jurisdiction for matters relating to contract, contrary to the proposition of AG Bobek (Opinion delivered on 21 June 2018). Read more

International commercial courts: should the EU be next? – EP study building competence in commercial law

By Erlis Themeli, Xandra Kramer, and Georgia Antonopoulou, Erasmus University Rotterdam (postdoc researcher, PI, and PhD candidate ERC project Building EU Civil Justice)

Previous posts on this blog have described the emerging international commercial and business courts in various Member States. While the primary aim is and should be improving the dispute resolution system for businesses, the establishment of these courts also points to the increase of competitive activities by certain Member States that try to attract international commercial litigation. Triggered by the need to facilitate business, prospects of financial gain, and more recently also by the supposed vacuum that Brexit will create, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium in particular have been busy establishing outlets for international commercial litigants. One of the previous posts by the present authors dedicated to these developments asked who will be next to enter the competition game started by these countries. In another post, Giesela Rühl suggested that the EU could be the next. Read more

Genocide by Expropriation – New Tendencies in US State Immunity Law for Art-Related Holocaust Litigations

On 10 July 2018, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rendered its judgment in the matter of Alan Philipps et al. v. the Federal Republic of Germany and the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz.

This case involves a claim by heirs of Holocaust victims for restitution of the „Welfenschatz“ (Guelph Treasure), a collection of medieval relics and devotional art housed for generations in the Cathedral of Braunschweig (Brunswick), Germany. This treasure is now on display at the Kunstgewerbemuseum Berlin (Museum of Decorative Arts) which is run by the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz. The value of the treasure is estimated to amount to USD 250 million (according to the claim for damages raised in the proceedings). Read more

Asser’s Enduring Vision: The HCCH Celebrates its 125th Anniversary

By the Permanent Bureau of the Hague Conference on Private International Law

On 12 September 1893, Tobias Asser, Dutch Jurist, Scholar and Statesman, realised a vision: he opened the first Session of the Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH). Today, exactly 125 years later, the HCCH celebrates Asser’s vision and the occasion of this First Session with a solemn ceremony in the presence of his Majesty The King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands. Read more

The race is on: German reference to the CJEU on the interpretation of Art. 14 Rome I Regulation with regard to third-party effects of assignments

By Prof. Dr. Peter Mankowski, University of Hamburg

Sometimes the unexpected simply happens.  Rome I aficionados will remember that the entire Rome I project was on the brink of failure since Member States could not agree on the only seemingly technical and arcane issue of the law applicable to the third-party effects of assignments of claims. An agreement to disagree saved the project in the last minute, back then. Of course, this did not make the issue vanish – and this issues concerns billion euro-markets in the financial industry. Read more

German Supreme Court refuses to enforce Polish judgment for violation of the German ordre public

It doesn’t happen too often that a Member State refuses enforcement of a judgment rendered in another Member State for violation of the ordre public. But in a decision published yesterday exactly this happened: The German Supreme Court (Bundesgerichtshof – BGH) refused to recognize and enforce a Polish judgment under the Brussels I Regulation (before the recast) arguing that enforcement would violate the German public policy, notable freedom of speech and freedom of the press as embodied in the German Constitution. With this decision, the highest German court adds to the already difficult debate about atrocities committed by Germans in Poland during WW II.

The facts of the case were as follows:

In 2013, the ZDF (Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen), one of Germany’s main public-service television broadcaster, announced the broadcasting of a documentary about the liberation of the concentration camps Ohrdruf, Buchenwald and Dachau. In the announcement, the camps Majdanek and Auschwitz were described as “Polish extermination camps”. Following a complaint by the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Berlin, the ZDF changed the text of the announcement to “German extermination camps on Polish territory”. At the same time, the applicant, a Polish citizen and former prisoner of the Auschwitz-Birkenau and Flossenbürg concentration camps, complained to the ZDF claiming that his personal rights had been violated and demanded, among other things, the publication of an apology.

In 2013, the ZDF apologized to the applicant in two letters and expressed its regret. In spring 2016 it also published a correction message expressing its regret for the “careless, false and erroneous wording” and apologising to all people whose feelings had been hurt as a result. At the end of 2016, on the basis of an action he had brought in Poland in 2014, the applicant obtained a second instance judgment of the Cracow Court of Appeal requiring the ZDF to publish an apology on the home page of its website (not just anywhere on the website) for a period of one month expressing its regrets that the announcement from 2013 contained “incorrect wording distorting the history of the Polish people”. The ZDF published the text of the judgment on its home page from December 2016 to January 2017, however, only via a link. The applicant considered this publication to be inadequate and, therefore, sought to have the Polish judgment enforced in Germany.

The Regional Court Mainz as well as the Court of Appeal Koblenz declared the judgment enforceable under the Brussels I Regulation (Reg. 44/2001). The German Federal Supreme Court, however, disagreed. Referring to Article 45 Brussels I Regulation, the Court held that enforcement of the judgment would result in a violation of the German ordre public because the exercise of state power to publish the text of the judgment prepared by the Cracow Court of Appeal would clearly violate the defendant’s right to freedom of speech and freedom of press as embodied in Article 5(1) of the German Constitution (Grundgesetz – GG) as well as the constitutional principle of proportionality.

The Court clarified that the dispute at hand did not concern the defendant’s original announcement – which was incorrect and, therefore, did not enjoy the protection of Article 5(1) GG – but only the requested publication of pre-formulated text. This text – which the ZDF, according to the Cracow court, had to make as its own statement – represented an expression of opinion. It required the ZDF to regret the use of “incorrect wording distorting the history of the Polish people” and to apologize to the applicant for the violation of his personal rights, in particular his national identity (sense of belonging to the Polish people) and his national dignity. To require the ZDF to published a text drafted by someone else as its own opinion would, therefore, violate the ZDF’s fundamental rights under Article 5(1) GG. In addition, it would violate the constitutional principle of proportionality. The defendant had corrected the disputed wording “Polish concentration camps”, which had been available for four days, on the day of the objection by the Embassy of the Republic of Poland. Even before the decision of the Court of Appeal, the ZDF had personally asked the applicant for an apology in two letters and also published an explanatory correction message with a request for apology addressed to all those concerned.

The official press release is available here. The full German decision can be downloaded here.

IM Skaugen SE v MAN Diesel & Turbo SE [2018] SGHC 123

In IM Skaugen SE v MAN Diesel & Turbo SE [2018] SGHC 123, the Singapore High Court had the occasion to discuss and resolve various meaty private international law issues. The facts concerned the alleged negligent or fraudulent misrepresentation by the defendants on the fuel consumption of a specific model of engine that was sold and installed into ships owned by the plaintiffs. The issue before the court was whether the Singapore courts had jurisdiction over the misrepresentation claim. The defendants were German and Norwegian incorporated companies so the plaintiffs applied for leave to serve the writ out of Singapore. This entailed fulfilling a 3 stage process, following English common law rules: (1) a good arguable case that the case falls within one of the heads set out in the Rules of Court, Order 11, (2) a serious issue to be tried on the merits, and (3) Singapore is forum conveniens on applying the test set out in The Spiliada [1987] AC 460. Stages (1) and (3) were at issue in the case.

The judgment, by Coomaraswamy J, merits close reading. The main private international law issues can be summarised as follows:

(a) Choice of law is relevant when assessing the heads of Order 11 of the Rules of Court.

The plaintiffs had relied on Order 11 rule 1(f) and rule 1(p). Rule 1(f) deals with tortious claims and the court proceeded by ascertaining where the tort was committed. According to the court, this question was to be answered by the lex fori. If the tort was committed abroad, the court held that choice of law for tort then came into play: the court must then determine if the tort satisfied Singapore’s tort choice of law rule, ie the double actionability rule. It should be noted that the Court of Appeal in Rickshaw Investments Ltd v Nicolai Baron von Uexkull [2007] 1 SLR(R) 377 had held that the double actionability rule will apply even in relation to local torts (as the flexible exception may displace Singapore law to point to the law of a third jurisdiction). The double actionability rule thus remains relevant when assessing Order rule 1(f) whether the tort is committed abroad or in Singapore.

(b) ‘damage’ for the purposes of Order 11 rule 1(f)(ii) is not limited to direct damage.

Order 11 rule 1(f)(ii) is in these terms: ‘the claim is wholly or partly founded on, or is for the recovery of damages in respect of, damage suffered in Singapore caused by a tortious act or omission wherever occurring.’ The court held that ‘damage’ for the purposes of rule 1(f)(ii) included the increased fuel expenditure and reduction in capital value of the ships due to the fuel inefficient engines suffered not just by the original owners of the ships at the time of the misrepresentation, but also the subsequent purchasers of the ships. On the facts, the court held that the damage suffered by the subsequent purchasers arose directly from the misrepresentation as the misrepresentation was also intended to be relied upon by them. Further, the court held that, even if that had not been the case, direct damage is not required under rule 1(f)(ii). The difference in wording between Order 11 rule 1(f) and the UK CPR equivalent (CPR PD6B para 3.1(9)) makes the decision on this point less controversial than the reasoning in Four Seasons v Brownlie [2017] UKSC 80, [2018] 1 WLR 192.

(c) The test used to ascertain whether ‘the claim is founded on a cause of action arising in Singapore’ for the purposes of Order 11 rule 1(p) differs from the substance test which applies to determine the loci delicti in a multi-jurisdictional tort situation for the purposes of the double actionability rule.

The former test derives from Distillers Co (Biochemicals) Ltd v Thompson [1971] AC 458. The court observed that the Distiller’s test is more plaintiff-centric compared to the substance test used for the purposes of the double actionability rule because Order 11 rule 1(p) ‘requires the court to view the facts of the case through the cause of action which the plaintiff has sought to invoke.’ Whereas, the latter test is ‘the more general and more factual question “where in substance did the tort take place.”’ (para [166], emphasis in original). This point will likely be revisited by the Court of Appeal, not least because it had, as the court itself acknowledged, cited the Distillers test as authority for the substance test in JIO Minerals FZC v Mineral Enterprises [2011] 1 SLR 391.

(d) Whether Singapore is forum conveniens for the purposes of a setting aside application and whether Singapore is forum non conveniens for the purposes of a stay application should be assessed with reference to current facts.

Norway and Germany were potential alternative fora for the action. After leave had been given to serve out of jurisdiction in the ex parte hearing, the plaintiffs commenced proceedings in Norway as a protective measure. No proceedings were commenced in Germany. This meant that, under the Lugano Convention, the Norwegian courts had priority over the German courts. The court treated this as indicating that the courts of Germany ceased to be an available forum to the parties. This was significant, given that the court had earlier held that the loci delicti was Germany. The defendants argued that the commencement of Norwegian proceedings was to be ignored and the application to set aside service out of jurisdiction was to be assessed solely with reference to the facts which existed at the time when leave to serve out of jurisdiction was granted. The effect of the defendants’ argument would be that the setting aside application would be determined on the basis that Germany was an available forum, while their alternative prayer for a stay would be determined on the basis that Germany was an unavailable forum. The potential for wastage in time and costs is clear on this argument and the court rightly took a common sense and practical approach on this issue.

(e) The possibility of a transfer of the case from the Singapore High Court (excluding the SICC) to the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC) is a relevant factor in the Spiliada analysis.

This had previously been confirmed by the Court of Appeal in Rappo, Tania v Accent Delight International Ltd [2017] 2 SLR 265. The SICC is a division of the Singapore High Court which specialises in international commercial litigation. Its rules allow for a question of foreign law to be determined on the basis of submissions instead of proof. Further, the bench includes International Judges from not only common law but also civil law jurisdictions. The court held that the specific features of the SICC and the possibility of the transfer of the case to the SICC weighed in favour of Singapore being forum conveniens compared to Norway and Germany.

(f) In a setting-aside application, where the plaintiffs have succeeded in showing that Singapore is the prima facie natural forum in the first stage of the Spiliada test, the burden of proof shifts to the defendants to show why they would suffer substantial injustice if the action were to proceed in Singapore.

In an Order 11 case, the second stage of the Spiliada test usually operates to give the plaintiffs a second bite of the cherry should they fail to establish Singapore is the natural forum under the first stage of the test. The plaintiffs are allowed to put forward reasons why they would suffer substantial injustice if trial takes place in the natural forum abroad. Very interestingly, the court held that where, as on the facts of the case, the plaintiff had already satisfied the burden of showing that Singapore is the natural forum under the first stage of the Spiliada test, the burden then shifts to the defendants to show why they would suffer substantial injustice if trial took place in Singapore.

The case is on appeal to the Court of Appeal. Its judgment is eagerly anticipated.

The Russian Supreme Court’s guidelines on private international law

The Russian Supreme Court has published the English translation of the guidelines on Russian private international law, issued in Russian on 27 June 2017 (ruling No 23 ‘On Consideration by Commercial Courts of Economic Disputes Involving Cross-Border Relations’).

The ruling is binding on all the lower courts in Russia: from time to time the Russian Supreme Court gathers in a plenary session to discuss the case law approaches to controversial matters in a particular field of law. It then adopts binding guidelines to ensure a uniform application of law in the future (this role of the Supreme Court is based on art. 126 of the Constitution and arts. 2 and 5 of the law on the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation of 2 February 2014). Read more

Towards a European Commercial Court?

The prospect of Brexit has led a number of countries on the European continent to take measures designed to make their civil justice systems more attractive for international litigants: In Germany, the so-called “Justice Initiative Frankfurt”, consisting of lawyers, judges, politicians and academics, has resulted in the creation of a special chamber for commercial matters at the District Court in Frankfurt which will, if both parties agree, conduct the proceedings largely in English (see here). In France, an English-language chamber for international commercial matters was established at the Cour d’appel in Paris, adding a second instance to the English-speaking chamber of commerce at the Tribunal de commerce in Paris (see here). In the Netherlands, the Netherlands Commercial Court and the Netherlands Commercial Court of Appeal will soon begin their work as special chambers of the Rechtbank and the Gerechtshof Amsterdam (see here). And in Belgium, the government plans to establish a Brussels International Business Court (see here). Clearly: the prospect of Brexit has stirred up the European market for international litigation.

Read more

Talaq v Greek public policy: Operation successful, patient dead…

A talaq divorce is rarely knocking at the door of Greek courts. A court in Thessaloniki dismissed an application for the recognition of an Egyptian talaq, invoking the public policy clause, despite the fact that the application was filed by the wife. You can find more information about the case, and check my brief comment here.

What puzzles me though is whether there are more jurisdictions sharing the same view. Personally I don’t feel at ease with this ruling for a number of reasons. But prior to that, a couple of clarifications:

  1. This case bears no resemblance to the Sahyouni saga. The spouses have no double nationality: The husband is an Egyptian, the wife a Greek national.
  2. There was no back and forth in their lives: they got married in Cairo, and lived there until the talaq was notarized. Following that, the spouse moved to Greece, and filed the application at the place of her new residence.
  3. Unlike Egypt, Greece is not a signatory of the 1970 Hague Convention on the Recognition of Divorces and Legal Separations.
  4. There is no bilateral agreement between the two countries in the field.

I’m coming now to the reasons of my disagreement with the judgment’s outcome.

  1. The result is not in line with the prevalent view in a number of European jurisdictions: From the research I was able to conduct, it is my understanding that Austria, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Norway, and Switzerland, do not see any public policy violation, when the wife takes the initiative to apply for recognition of the talaq.
  2. The reasoning of the court is a verbatim reiteration of an Athens Court of Appeal judgement from the ‘90s. It reads as follows: Solely the recognition of such an act would cause profound disturbance to the Greek legal order, if its effects are to be extended and applied in Greece on the basis of the Egyptian applicable rules. What is actually missing is the reason why recognition will lead to profound disturbance, and to whom. Surely not to the spouse, otherwise she wouldn’t file an application to recognize the talaq.
  3. It should be remembered that the public policy clause is not targeting at the foreign legislation applied in the country of origin or the judgment per se; moreover, it focuses on the repercussions caused by the extension of its effects in the country of destination. Given the consent of the spouse, I do not see who is going to feel disturbed.
  4. Recognition would not grant carte blanche for talaq divorces in Greece. As in other jurisdictions, Greece remains devoted to fundamental rights. What makes a difference here is the initiative of the spouse. In other words, the rule remains the same, i.e. no recognition, unless there’s consent by the wife. Consent need not be present at the time the talaq was uttered or notarized; it may be demonstrated at a later stage, either expressly or tacitly. I guess nobody would seriously argue that consent is missing in the case at hand.
  5. Talking about consent, one shouldn’t exclude an ex ante tacit agreement of the spouses for financial reasons. It has been already reported that all remaining options for a spouse in countries where Sharia is predominant are much more complicated, time-consuming, cumbersome, and detrimental to the wife. Take khul for example: It is indeed a solution, but at what cost for the spouse…
  6. Last but not least, what are the actual consequences of refusal for the spouse? She will remain in limbo for a while, until she manages to get a divorce decree in Greece. But it won’t be an easy task to accomplish, and it will come at a heavy price: New claim, translations in Arabic, service in Egypt (which means all the 1965 Hague Service Convention conditions need to be met; Egypt is very strict on the matter: no alternative methods allowed!); and a very careful preparation of the pleadings, so as to avoid a possible stay of proceedings, if the court requires additional information on Egyptian law (a legal information will most probably double the cost of litigation…).

For all the reasons aforementioned, I consider that the judgment is going to the wrong direction, and a shift in Greek case law is imperative, especially in light of the thousands of refugees from Arab countries who are now living in the country.

As I mentioned in the beginning, any information on the treatment of similar cases in your jurisdictions is most welcome.