What constitutes a ‘claim’ under stakeholder proceedings? The CV Stealth (again).

 

 

The CV Stealth involved the lengthy detention of the vessel in Venezuela while waiting to load cargo, pursuant to time charterers’ orders. This resulted in claims for  hire during this period by head owners against the bareboat charterers and indemnity claims by the bareboat charterers against the time charterers.  The bareboat charter remains in force, although the vessel was redelivered under the time charter in 2015. The case has already come before the Commercial Court on two occasions (reported in this blog on May 24th 2016  and  November 16th 2017).  It has now come back for a third time, ST shipping and Transport Pte Ltd & Ors v. Space Shipping Ltd, Psara Energy Ltd [2018] EWHC 156 (Comm), with an issue as to what constitutes a ‘claim’ for the purposes of stakeholder proceedings under CPR Rule 86.1 which provides: “ This Part contains rules which apply where — a person is under a liability in respect of a debt or in respect of any money, goods or chattels; and competing claims are made or expected to be made against that person in respect of that debt or money or for those goods or chattels by two or more persons.”

The time charterers had become subject to an award under which they were to pay $6.4m to disponent owners. They then became notified by head owners of an assignment in their favour by disponent owners of $1,787,375 reflecting 181 days’ hire under the bareboat charter. Disponent owners subsequently made a claim for the full of the award of $6.4m  under a letter of undertaking that had been issued by Glencore, as guarantors for time charterers. The demand took no account of the assignment effected in favour of head owners, and Glencore and time charterers issued stakeholder proceedings in respect of US$6.4m held by time charterers’ solicitors. Disponent owners then accepted that the sum representing 181 days hire which had been the subject of the assignment could be paid out to head owners.

However, charterers did not accept that they had now received the “all clear” to pay the balance to disponent owners. First, a dispute remained between head owners and disponent owners as to the scope of the assignment although this was swiftly decided against head owners in the third arbitration. Secondly, the head owners then obtained from the US District Court of Connecticut a Rule B attachment order which attached or garnished “the debts of [the charterers] to [the disponent owners]”, in support of their claims against the  disponent owners totalling some US$19.6m. The head owners then gave notice of the order to the time charterers pursuant to which they said that the charterers were directed to “attach and freeze and all tangible or intangible property and/or assets held for the benefit of [the disponent owners]”.  Head owners claimed that this gave then a proprietary claim over time charterers’ debt to the disponent owners. The order was subsequently vacated on charterers’ application of the grounds that as the court could not exercise personal jurisdiction over charterers, property held by the charterers were outside the jurisdiction of the court. Head owners appealed against the decision. Charterers resisted the payment out of the sums in the stakeholder account because there was still the risk of a double payment, if head owners’ appeal in the Rule B proceedings were successful.

The matter came before the Commercial Court and Teare J had to decide whether there was a stakeholder claim within CPR Part 86. The disponent owners submitted that this stakeholder claim was not within CPR Part 86 because there were no “competing claims ”.  First, the disponent owners did not have a claim, but, rather, an arbitration award. The disponent owners relied on Stevenson & Son v Brownell [1912] 2 Ch 344 and the note in the White Book at 86.1.2 based upon that case to the effect that “claim” in interpleader or stakeholder actions did not extend to concluded claims where judgment has been obtained . Second, Part 86 requires or envisages proceedings in the English court, whereas here the Rule B proceedings had been commenced in Connecticut, not in in England. Teare J rejected both contentions and held that there was a ‘claim’ within CPR Part 86. The context of Part 86 did not require ‘claim’ to be limited to proceedings before an English court and a competing claim could be one that was made in another jurisdiction. The present case was distinguishable from Stevenson, a case involving two competing claims to royalties, one of which had ripened into a judgment. The present case did not concern rival claims by two persons claiming to be entitled to be paid hire under the time charterparty. Rather, head owners claimed a proprietary right by way of lien on the chose in action represented by the disponent owners’ right to payment of the award by the charterers. Furthermore, although the disponent owners were the beneficiaries of several arbitration awards they were not judgment creditors.

A further issue was whether Glencore were entitled to claim stakeholder relief as they had only been subject to one claim under the LOU, from the disponent owners. Teare J found that as the LOU was a contract of surety it was sensible that both the primary obligor and the surety were made party to the stakeholder claim.

Teare J then decided that the sum in the stakeholder account should be paid out to the disponent owners. There was no risk of time charterers being later ordered to pay the same sum to head owners if their Rule B appeal were to succeed. As party to the stakeholder claim, head owners were bound  by reason of the doctrine of res judicata by any order the court makes. The court’s order would estop them  from contending that they, rather than the disponent owners, were entitled to the debt owed by the charterers.

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