Recap term in sale contract prevails over printed incorporated terms.

Septo Trading Inc v Tintrade Ltd (The Nounou) [2021] EWCA Civ 718 (18 May 2021) involved a dispute under an international sale contract of fuel oil as to the effect of a quality certificate issued by an independent inspector at the load port  and whether it was intended to be conclusive evidence of the quality of the consignment.

The recap email of confirmation of the sale said that the certificate would be binding on the parties in the absence of fraud or manifest error, but it also provided for the BP 2007 General Terms and Conditions for FOB Sales (“the BP Terms”) to apply “where not in conflict with the above”. Those terms say that the quality certificate will be conclusive and binding “for invoicing purposes”, but without prejudice to the buyer’s right to bring a quality claim. The quality certificate issued by the independent inspector certified that the fuel oil was in accordance with the contractual specification at the load port.

Teare J, [2020] EWHC 1795 (Comm), found as a fact that it was not and held that the BP Terms qualified the Recap term. Had this stood alone, it would have excluded the buyer’s quality claim, but there was no conflict between Recap term and the BP terms which could be read together so as to give effect to both of them. The buyer’s claim succeeded and damages of US $3,058,801 were assessed.

The Court of Appeal, for whom Males LJ gave the leading judgment, have now overruled Teare J and found that there was inconsistency between the two sets of terms and that the Recap term prevailed. Applying the approach adopted by the Court of Appeal in Pagnan SpA v Tradax Ocean Transportation SA [1987] 3 All ER 565, the starting point was the meaning of the Recap term and a provisional view of its meaning needed to be formed, without taking account of the term which is alleged to be inconsistent. The Recap term provided that the quality certificate issued by the mutually acceptable independent inspector is binding on the parties, so that (assuming always that the certificate shows the product to be on-spec) the buyer cannot thereafter bring a claim on the ground that the quality of the product is not in accordance with the contract. Nobody would think, reading the Recap term, that the word “binding” meant “binding for invoicing purposes”.

Next the BP terms had to be considered and Section 1.2 provides that the quality certificate is to be “conclusive and binding on both parties for invoicing purposes” and that the buyer is obliged to make payment in full, but that this is “without prejudice to the rights of either party to make any claim pursuant to Section 26”, that is to say a claim that the product is not in accordance with the specification. This conflicted with the Recap term and the two provisions cannot fairly and sensibly be read together. The printed term did not merely qualify or supplement the Recap term, but rather deprived it of all practical effect.

Similarly, section 1.3 of the BP Terms which provided for a fundamentally different testing regime from that set out in the Recap term was held to have no application. The Recap provided for the independent inspector’s certificate of quality to be binding, with the parties free to agree (as they did) what instructions should be given to the inspector which will lead to the issue of that binding certificate. Section 1.3 undermined this regime by insisting that if the parties agree that the certificate of quality should be based on shore tank samples, it is nevertheless a condition of the contract that the seller must provide the same quality of product at the vessel’s permanent hose connection as set out in the certificate of quality.

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