Negotiating damages — maritime-style

Guest blogpost from James M Turner QC, Quadrant Chambers

In Priyanka Shipping Ltd v Glory Bulk Carriers Pte Limited (“The Lory”) [2019] EWHC 2804 (Comm), David Edwards QC (sitting as a Judge of the Commercial Court) dismissed a common law claim for negotiating damages for the breach of a memorandum of agreement (MOA) for the sale of a ship.

The decision is one of the first to grapple with the recent Supreme Court decision in One Step (Support) Ltd v Morris-Garner [2018] UKSC 20, [2019] AC 649. In that case Lord Reed’s majority judgment issued a corrective to jurisprudence which, since the House of Lords’ decision in AG v Blake [2001] 1 AC 268, had seen the award of negotiating damages at common law “on a wider and less certain basis” than had been the case before Blake.

What are “negotiating damages”? Negotiating damages “represent such a sum of money as might reasonably have been demanded by [the claimant] from [the defendant] as a quid pro quo for [permitting the continuation of the breach of covenant or other invasion of right]”: see One Step at [4]). They are “assessed by reference to a hypothetical negotiation between the parties, for such amount as might reasonably have been demanded by the claimant for releasing the defendants from their obligations” (One Step at [25]).

Negotiating damages are commonly encountered in two situations: so-called user damages in tort; and damages awarded under Lord Cairns’ Act.

A claim for user damages arises where the defendant has used or invaded the claimant’s property without causing direct financial loss: an example commonly given is riding a horse without permission. The defendant, having taken something for nothing, is required to pay a reasonable fee for the use made of the claimant’s property.

As for Lord Cairns’ Act: historically, the Common Law Courts could only award damages for past breaches, i.e., where the cause of action was complete at the date the writ was issued. For the future, litigants had to look to the Courts of Equity for orders for specific performance and injunction etc. However, the latter had no power to award damages. That inconvenience was remedied by Lord Cairns’ Act 1858, section 2 of which (now s. 50 of the Senior Courts Act 1981) allowed the Courts of Equity to award damages as well as or instead of an injunction.

Damages may be awarded under Lord Cairns’ Act for past breaches, but are assessed on the same basis as damages at common law.

Damages in lieu of an injunction for future breaches, on the other hand, cannot be assessed on the same basis as damages at common law, as by definition such damages cannot be awarded at common law. Instead, negotiating damages may be awarded.

The Issue. As will be seen, the issue in The Lory was whether negotiating damages were available at common law for past breaches of the relevant term of the MOA.

The Facts. The Defendant Seller sold the Claimant Buyer its vessel on terms that included clause 19, by which the Buyer undertook that it would not trade the vessel and would sell it only for demolition. However, the Buyer traded the vessel. By the time of the trial, the vessel was completing discharge under her second fixture and was fixed for a third. The Seller claimed damages for or an injunction to restrain breach of clause 19 of the MOA (or both).

The Outcome. The Judge awarded an injunction restraining future trading of the vessel (expressly including the third fixture). Damages could in principle be claimed for the first and second fixtures, but – because they were now in the past – only at common law.

The Judge noted that, once the vessel had been sold and delivered, the Seller no longer had any proprietary interest in it, “no right or ability to use the Vessel to trade, and no right or ability to profit from the Vessel’s use … ”. Although the Seller was entitled to be placed in the position it would have been if the contract had not been breached, “it is not obvious how any further trading of the Vessel by the Buyer … could cause the Seller any loss.” [163].

It was “no doubt” for this reason that no conventional damages claim had been made, but only a claim for a hypothetical release fee. The “critical question”, so far as that claim was concerned, was whether the Seller could bring itself within [95(10)] of Lord Reed’s judgment in One Step and show that “ … the loss suffered by the claimant is appropriately measured by reference to the economic value of the right which has been breached, considered as an asset.” [189]

Lord Reed had made clear that “that such an approach is not available in the case of a breach of any contractual right, but only where:… the breach of contract results in the loss of a valuable asset created or protected by the right which was infringed.The paragraph implicitly regards the relevant asset not as the contractual right itself but as something else, a valuable asset “created or protected by the right”.” [190]

The “valuable assets” that Lord Reed had in mind were essentially proprietary rights and analogous rights such as intellectual property and rights of confidence [193]. The Judge rejected the Seller’s submission that its right under clause 19 was within the same class [196]. The Judge regarded the right under clause 19 as more closely analogous to the non-compete obligation at issue in One Step, which Lord Reed did not consider fell within “the category of cases where negotiating damages were available as a measure of the Seller’s loss” [199].

The claim therefore failed. The Judge did, however, grant permission to appeal. We may not, therefore, have heard the last word on this topic.

James M. Turner QC appeared for the Buyers in this case on the instruction of Alex Andrews and Claire Don of Reed Smith.

Most shareholders hold no shares — official. But it doesn’t matter.

Relief all round in the Square Mile today, courtesy of Hildyard J in SL Claimants v Tesco Plc [2019] EWHC 2858 (Ch).

Something over two years ago Tesco was fined a whopping £129 million for publishing misleading profit figures which bent the market in its shares. A number of institutions, market makers and others who had relied on these figures sued Tesco under s.90A and Sch.10A of FSMA 2000, saying they had bought or retained its shares on the basis of the figures. At this point, however, Tesco raised a classic pettifogger’s point (to be fair, one previously raised by, among others, Profs Gullifer and Benjamin).

To qualify for compensation under FSMA you have by Sch.10A to have bought, disposed of or retained “any interest in securities”. Tesco said two things. First, they argued that where shares were dematerialised and the custody chain included more than one layer of custodianship, no ultimate beneficiary investor ever held an interest in any securities so as to trigger liability under FSMA. If shares were vested (legally) in A who held them on trust for B who held them for investor X, X had an interest in B’s interest in the shares, but no interest in the shares themselves. Secondly, Tesco contended that intermediated securities were fungible; that when they were dealt with the whole transaction was effectuated by a combination of electronic credit and debit book entries and netting arrangements between custodians; and therefore that one could simply not talk in the old-fashioned way about shares being acquired or disposed of by anyone. True, they admitted, their plea would leave the relevant parts of FSMA largely like Cinderella — all dressed up with nowhere to go — and largely emasculate the whole UK scheme of investor protection as regards dematerialised securities (meaning these days almost all securities); but, in effect, that was tough. Fiat justitia ruat coelum, as they might have put it.

Hildyard J was having none of it. He accepted that where there were two or more custodians in a securities daisy-chain the ultimate investor technically had an interest in his immediate custodian’s interest, and not in the actual shares in which the custodian had an interest. But he rejected the idea that juridico-metaphysical niceties of this sort affected FSMA. “Any interest”, he said, could and should be interpreted as including any proprietary interest in shares or interests in shares. True it was, too, that technically a transfer of shares these days involved no transfer of anything at all, but rather a stream of electrons signifying juridical suppression of one equitable claim in X and its co-ordinated supersession by another in Y. But this did not prevent concepts like disposal being given their popular, rather than their technical equity lawyers’, meaning.

So the big claim against Tesco goes ahead. Relief, one suspects, not only in the City but in government. Had the result gone the other way there would have been a need for urgent corrective legislation. And in these fraught times we know just how hard it can be to get that kind of thing through.

Watch your email signature

The definition of what counts as a “signature” isn’t of enormous importance to shipping lawyers most of the time: they don’t tend to deal in real estate or declare themselves trustees of land. But in one case it does matter: guarantees, whether of charter obligations, settlements or any other obligation need to be signed under s.4 of the Statute of Frauds 1677. Imagine you send an email on a client’s instructions guaranteeing a debt. If you type in your name like so — “Best wishes, Barry” — no problem. But what if you just type “Agreed” under the terms of the guarantee, and your email program appends at the foot of the email: “From Barry X at ABC Solicitors LLP. This email is confidential etc etc …”? Signed or not? The Chancery Division last week said Yes in Neocleous v Rees [2019] EWHC 2462 (Ch). A settlement of a real estate dispute was held enforceable in these circumstances under the LP(MP) Act 1989; it seems pretty clear that s.4 cases will be decided the same way. Moral: good news for those wishing to uphold guarantees. And if you are thinking of raising the pettifogger’s defence under s.4, look carefully at your email settings. You have been warned.

Brussels I Recast — not as long-arm as you feared

It’s not often that what is essentially a family law case causes commercial lawyers to sigh with relief, but one suspects this may be true of yesterday’s decision of Lavender J in Gray v Hurley [2019] EWHC 1972 (QB).

Under Art.4 of Brussels I Recast, readers will recall that a UK-domiciled defendant has a prima facie right not to be sued anywhere in the EU except in the UK, unless one of the exceptions in the Regulation applies. But what if he finds himself sued in some court outside the EU? Does Art.4 extend to give him a further right not to be sued anywhere in the world except here, and thereby justify the issue by the English courts of an anti-suit injunction to stop the foreign proceedings in their tracks?

In Gray, a supposedly beautiful extra-marital relationship broke up in tears, as is so often the way with such things. There was a good deal of wealth in a number of places to argue about. She being domiciled in England and he resident here, she sued him in the English courts. Meanwhile he sued her in New Zealand, where he had close connections. Having finally established the jurisdiction of the English courts to hear her case, she asked for an anti-suit injunction to stop the New Zealand proceedings, arguing that this was necessary to vindicate her Art.4 right to be sued here, and only here — and for good measure that her human right (to protection of her possessions) would be infringed unless the order went.

Lavender J was having none of it. Art.4 of Brussels I gave her no right analogous to that derived from an exclusive English jurisdiction clause that entitled her to the courts’ intervention in the absence of strong reasons to the contrary; and being sued abroad in respect of one’s assets in an action that had no guarantee of success could not be said to be an attack on one’s possessions sufficient to engage the pretensions of A1P1 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It followed that, like any other litigant, if she wanted an anti-suit injunction she had to show that England was clearly most appropriate forum and that there was no countervailing justification for him suing in New Zealand — which she could not.

With respect this seems absolutely right. For one thing there is something odd about the idea of EU law justifying the granting of a peculiarly common-law remedy that fills most EU private international lawyers with horror, and indeed is banned entirely by EU law in the case of EU courts. Admittedly this has not stopped the English courts so holding in respect of the exclusive jurisdiction over employment contracts in what is now Art.22.1 (see Petter v EMC Europe [2015] EWCA Civ 828); but that case is itself controversial, and it is good to see its spread curbed.

More to the point, however, if this claim had succeeded, the effects on comity would have been considerable. Courts in countries outside the EU would not have been gratified to see the English courts issuing anti-suit injunctions almost as a matter of course telling litigants not to proceed there in commercial claims against English-based defendants for no better reason than that the EU, an organisation they were not a member of and owed no allegiance to , disapproved of the proceedings being brought there.

As we said before, we suspect much gentle relief in the commercial legal community, which can now be allowed to get on with business as usual.

Of damages and counterfactuals — again

It’s not often that we can say “You read it first on the IISTL blog.” But it seems we may be able to, following the decision of the Court of Appeal (Males, Rose and Haddon-Cave L.JJ.) in Classic Maritime Inc v Limbungan Makmur Sdn Bhd [2019] EWCA Civ 1102.

The facts briefly recap thus. A charterer signed a CoA promising to come up with vast cargoes of Brazilian iron ore that would have netted the shipowner profits of something like $20 million. It didn’t, and in hindsight it was abundantly clear that it it never could have. The contract was subject to a force majeure clause including floods preventing performance. Floods duly materialised; but (as was held both at first instance and on appeal) the charterer couldn’t invoke the clause, since if it had never had any cargoes in the first place the floods hadn’t prevented it doing anything. Nevertheless Teare J held at first instance that even though there was breach the damages were not $20 million, but zilch (or rather nominal). His argument was that, hindsight having shown that the shipowner wouldn’t have had a right to performance even if the cargoes had been there, the value of the lost rights was zero.

We raised an eyebrow here at the idea that a defendant who hadn’t, and never could have, performed should be able to cut damages from $20 million to zero by pointing to a force majeure clause that might have protected him but in fact didn’t. The Court of Appeal has now made it clear that it thinks the same way, and substituted an award of $20 million. If (it was said) a claimant showed that a defendant had failed to perform and the defendant could not invoke any exculpatory provision, there was no reason why damages should not be substantial. The reasons behind the non-performance were irrelevant, as was the fact that had the defendant been able to perform in the first place he would have had an excuse.

In our view, despite the beguiling advocacy of the Institute’s own Simon Rainey QC, this is sensible and logical. Males LJ hit the nail on the head at [89] when he pithily pointed out that the breach was not inability or unwillingness to supply cargoes, but the simple fact that the cargoes, for whatever reason, were not there. Put that way, everything neatly falls into place. If you don’t perform your contract and can’t point to any excuse, you are liable for substantial damages. End of story.

Carriage contracts mean what they say, OK?

Open any contract textbook at the chapter on exception clauses, and you will come across a long list of cases on the restrictive interpretation of such clauses, saying that (for example) they will not lightly exonerate a party from the consequences of his own fault in the absence of clear words; that if a clause could cover both negligence and strict liability it will presumptively only cover the latter; that ambiguities will be construed contra proferentem; and so on.

As usual, however, things are not as they seem. No doubt such matters have formed the stuff of contract lectures and provided law professors with enjoyment for as long as most of us can remember. Outside academia, however, commercial lawyers today can pretty safely treat them as a mere empty ritual incantation and then go on quietly to ignore them.

The latest demonstration of this point comes in a case decided six weeks ago but only just reported, Aprile SpA v Elin Maritime Ltd [2019] EWHC 1001 (Comm). On the facts as assumed, steel fabrications were carried on deck from Thailand to Algeria under a straight bill stating that they were so carried and continuing: “ The Carrier shall in no case be responsible for loss of or damage to the cargo, howsoever arising prior to loading into or after discharge from the Vessel or while the cargo is in the charge of another Carrier, nor in respect of deck cargo or live animals.” The cargo did not arrive in one piece, and cargo — or its insurers — wanted to bring a claim. Faced with the unpromising terms of the bill of lading (which was unaffected by the Hague Rules because of the statement of deck carriage), they argued, with a touching hope, that for all its wideness the exemption did not cover any damage caused by negligence or unseaworthiness.

The deputy judge, Stephen Hofmeyr QC, was having none of it. In line with a series of recent authorities such as Persimmon Homes Ltd v Ove Arup & Partners [2017] EWCA Civ 373, he held that the exception clause had to be read, like any other contract term, with a view to seeing what it would mean to a reasonable businessperson, taking into account the circumstances surrounding the contract. He saw no reason to interpret the words “howsoever arising” as meaning anything other than what they said, or to regard claims alleging negligence or unseaworthiness as raising any special issue in this connection. He expressed the view that Langley J had been right to suggest as much in The Imvros [1999] 1 Lloyd’s Rep 848, and saw no justification in criticisms later made of that case. Equally he joined in the general tendency to sideline Canada SS v R [1952] AC 192 and its suggestions for cutting down the presumptive meaning of clauses that did not mention negligence in so many words. The argument that there might be strict liability as a common carrier and that the exception clause might have been intended to be limited to that he treated with the disbelief it richly deserved.

In short, in carriage as elsewhere commercial contracts mean what they say; complex rules of interpretation, and outdated presumptions about exoneration for fault, have little part to play. And rightly so. Carriers and cargo interests alike are keen on English law and jurisdiction precisely because they know their contracts will be read in a common sense and businesslike way. The deputy judge here needs, if one may say so, to be commended for approaching this case with a realistic and hard-headed attitude, and not disappointing them.

Shipping casualties and clearing-up

After a casualty the clear priority for shipowning, P&I and insurance interests alike is to clear up the mess as soon as possible and start trading again. The last thing they want is a run-in with well-meaning administrators saying that nothing can be done until form after form has been filled in, checked, rubber-stamped and filed, and permission to act obtained from Old Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all. Yet this was exactly what happened in 2012 to the owners of the 86,000 dwt container vessel MSC Flaminia. A fire broke out on a voyage from Charleston to Antwerp, forcing the crew to abandon ship and resulting in the vessel being towed dead to Wilhelmshaven in Germany. The owners wanted to send her directly to an entirely reputable ship-repairer in Romania for cleanup and repair, but the German environmental authorities were having none of it. The vessel was full of filth, sludge, metal debris and the dirty water used to extinguish the fire. This was, they said, waste and subject to the Waste Directive 2008 and Regulation 1013/2006, requiring extensive documentation, planning and administrative oversight before any transfer could take place. Owners argued in vain that Art.1.3(b) specifically excepted waste produced on board ships, trains, etc and later discharged for treatment: debris from a casualty, said the bureaucrats, was not within the exception. The result was that the ship remained marooned in Wilhelmshaven for seven months before it was finally allowed to go to Romania. The German courts, in proceedings to recover the resulting losses from the state, initially supported the Teutonic bureaucracy, but the Munich Landgericht then sent the question off to the ECJ: was waste resulting from a marine casualty within the exception?

The ECJ, much to everyone’s relief, today said that it was. The Directive had to be interpreted purposively and there was no reason to give special treatment to waste resulting from a casualty, especially as the terms of Art.1.3(b) were unqualified. Within the EU this now means that vessels can get out of ports of refuge quickly and be sent with due expedition to wherever they can be cleaned up and repaired most efficiently. And a good thing too.

The decision, under the name of Conti II v Land Niedersachsen (Case C‑689/17) [2019] EUECJ C-689/17, is here (unfortunately only in French).

Money in the bank is not a trust fund — OK?

It is hornbook banking law, and has been ever since 1848 (see Foley v Hill (1848) 2 HLC 28), that those lucky enough to have a credit balance with their bank have the benefit of a debt owed by the latter: nothing more, nothing less, and certainly no trust or other equitable interest in any funds in the institution. Any lingering doubts on the matter were dispelled by Space Investments v CIBC (Bahamas) Ltd [1986] 3 All E.R. 75.

Or so we thought, until Barling J put the cat among the pigeons in late 2017. The Court of Appeal has now, much to everyone’s relief, reversed his decision and restored orthodoxy in First City Monument Bank plc v Zumax Nigeria Ltd [2019] EWCA Civ 294.

Cut away the intricacies of murky Nigerian financial transactions, and the background was this. Zumax, a Nigerian company servicing the oil industry in the shape of Shell and Chevron, banked in Nigeria with IMB. Like many Nigerian organisations, when it received dollar payments it ensured they were made offshore: here, into an account with Chase in the name of an Isle of Man nominee, Redsear. If and when monies were needed in Nigeria, Redsear would then transfer them into IMB’s account with Commerzbank; IMB in turn would credit Zumax in naira.

Between 2000 and 2002 several million dollars were transferred from the Redsear account to IMB, but allegedly never reached Zumax. Allegations of fraud were made against the person who organised these transfers, who had connections with both Redsear and IMB. Zumax alleged that in so far as these sums had reached IMB (whose obligations First City Monument had taken over), they had been held on trust for Zumax. We are not told in terms why Zumax did not simply sue to have its account credited, but this may have been due to the fact that Zumax was alleged to owe large sums of money to IMB under a previous facility, or some other reason connected with dubious dealings by IMB.

Barling J held that because the monies had been transferred to IMB via its Commerzbank account specifically for the benefit of Zumax, IMB had not been free to deal with them as its own, and there was in the circumstances no reason why a trust should not be inferred. The Court of Appeal saw this off in short order. It was of course possible for a bank to receive money as a trustee for its customer: but it was unlikely. The fact that monies were transferred to a bank for the benefit of the account of X was entirely consistent with a duty to credit the account and not to hold the monies on trust, and this applied as much to a transfer through a correspondent bank (i.e. Commerzbank) as to a direct transfer. The normal inference, indeed, was that a bank in such a case held the monies at its free disposal. For good measure there had been no mention of any need to segregate the monies — normally an important feature of a trust. (The court might have added that in so far as a “Quistclose trust” was alleged, it would still not get Zumax home, since the normal inference in such trusts is that unless and until put to its intended use the money is held not for the payee but for the payer — here Redsear).

Relief all round, one suspects, for the banking community. Banking law is complex enough without being regularly made more difficult by the use of trusts; this decision will make it that much more difficult for lawyers further to muddy turbid waters by lengthy pleadings alleging fiduciary duties, trust relationships and the like. In the view of this blog, this is quite right too.

Bareboat charters — keep your paperwork up to date

Life can be demanding for bareboat charterers, whether they are simply chartering in, or using a bareboat charter from a bank as a financing device.

In Silverburn Shipping v Ark Shipping [2019] EWHC 376 (Comm) owners under a Barecon1989 charter had suspicions as to their Korean charterers’ ability and intention to look after the vessel properly, and terminated the charter. One reason they gave was that the charterer had allowed the BV classification to lapse a short time before the vessel went into dry dock, thus breaking its obligation under Clause 9 to “keep the Vessel with unexpired classification of the class … and with other required certificates in force at all times”. Arbitrators refused to order the immediate redelivery of the vessel, holding that the duty to maintain class was not absolute, but rather to renew any expired entry in a reasonable time, and in adition that the duty to maintain the vessel in class was an intermediate term and not a condition.

On a s.69 appeal, Carr J disagreed. She saw no reason to read the obligation to keep the vessel in class as anything other than an absolute duty. Further, while accepting that the oft-emphasised requirement of commercial certainty could be over-used and could not “be deployed as some trump card” (a bon mot at para.[53] that is likely to find its way quickly into textbooks and counsel’s argument), she decided that the duty to keep in class was a condition of the contract, Breach of it could be serious in respect of the tradeability of the ship, and affect insurance, ship mortgage and flag: entry in class was moreover a black-and-white criterion with no shades of grey which was redolent of the idea of a condition.

This is something that needs to be taken seriously by charterers. Although the wording of Clause 13 of Barecon2017 differs slightly from the 1989 version, any discrepancy is minor and Carr J’s reasoning would, we suggest, continue to apply. Moreover, the right to terminate a bareboat charter can have considerable effects, particularly in the case of a financing charter with a purchase option: once the charter goes, so does the option. True, if the grounds for termination were wholly technical, in theory the court would have a right to relieve a bareboat charterer from forfeiture (The Jotunheim [2005] 1 Lloyd’s Rep. 181); but this is a difficult jurisdiction to persuade it to exercise, particularly in the face of an agreement for termination entered into by commercially-savvy parties. Charterers and borrowers, you have been warned.

Clearing up after a marine casualty: comfortable words from the Advocate-General.

As a matter of EU law, moving waste across borders can be an expensive bureaucratic nightmare. Regulation 1013/2006 on waste shipments lays down all sorts of notification, insurance, and other requirements that must be satisfied before any such shipment can take place.

The German owners of the MSC Flaminia got a taste of this in 2012. En route from Charleston to Antwerp with a cargo of nearly 5000 containers, including 151 stated to contain dangerous cargo, the vessel suffered a fire and a number of explosions. These left her in an unholy mess, with quantities of scrap metal, possibly contaminated sludge and water used to put out the fire slopping about everywhere. She ran for Wilhelmshaven and made arrangements for cleaning-up operations in Romania. The German environmental authorities then said “Not so fast”, arguing that all the rigmarole of the waste shipments directive had to be gone through. The owners argued that the exception in Art.1(3)(b) applied, which excises from the Regulation “waste generated on board vehicles, trains, aeroplanes and ships, until such waste is offloaded in order to be recovered or disposed of.” The government argued that this did not cover waste created by a casualty outside normal ship operations; a Munich court duly sent the issue to the ECJ.

The Advocate-General’s opinion came down clearly for the shipowners: there was no specific exception for waste arising from an accident or casualty, and no need to imply one. One suspects the ECJ will follow suit. The relief for shipowners is likely to be considerable: it means that cleaning-up operations can now proceed smoothly wherever is easiest. And a good thing too.

See Schifffahrts GmbH MSC Flaminia v Land Niedersachsen (Case C698/17), as ever available on BAILII (unfortunately in French).