Charters, subjects and arbitrators’ jurisdiction

Hopeless appeals sometimes clear the air. One such was today’s appeal by the claimants in the arbitration decision of The Newcastle Express [2022] EWCA Civ 1555.

Owners of a largish bulker fixed her for a voyage carrying coal from Australia to China. The charter was on the terms of an accepted proforma containing a London arbitration clause, and subject to Rightship approval. The recap, however, contained the words SUB SHIPPER/RECEIVERS APPROVAL, and no sub was ever lifted. The charterers declined to accept the vessel, alleging that Rightship approval had not been obtained on time; the owners alleged wrongful repudiation, and claimed arbitration.

The charterers argued that because the necessary approvals had not been forthcoming no agreement of any kind had been concluded, and politely sat out the owners’ proceedings. The arbitration tribunal decided that there had been a concluded contract; that it therefore had jurisdiction; and that the owners were entitled to something over $280,000 in damages. On an appeal under ss.67 and 69 of the Arbitration Act Jacobs J allowed the charterers’ s.67 appeal, holding that there had never been either a contract or an agreement to arbitrate anything; hence neither the charter nor the arbitration bound the charterers. For good measure he also said that he would have allowed a s.69 appeal on the law.

The owners unsuccessfully appealed to the Court of Appeal. They argued first, one suspects without much enthusiasm, that the “sub shipper/receivers approval” term was not a precondition of there being any contract, but instead acknowledged the presence of an agreement and merely qualified the duty to perform it. The Court of Appeal had little difficulty sweeping this point aside. Terms fairly clearly giving a person the right to disapprove a transaction on commercial grounds, as here, were fairly consistently construed in the same way as other “subject to contract” terms: and this one was clearly intended to allow either party to walk away without penalty.

This left the separability point: why not invoke the “one-stop-shop” preference adumbrated in Fiona Trust & Holding Corporation v Privalov [2007] UKHL 40, [2007] 4 All ER 951 and engage in a bit of constructive interpretation, so as to treat the parties as having agreed that even if the main agreement hadn’t been concluded they had agreed on any dispute, including whether the agreement was enforceable, being decided by arbitrators? To this, however, there was a simple answer. Harbour Assurance v Kansa Insurance Co [1993] QB 701 before the 1996 Act, and the post-1996 Fiona Trust case itself, showed that this chicken wouldn’t fight. It was all very well to separate out the arbitration agreement in cases where the parties had seemingly agreed but there was some alleged vitiating factor, such as mistake or duress, in their agreement. But here the very point at issue was whether there had been agreement on anything in the first place: if there had not, any arbitration provision fell with the agreement itself. Game set and match, therefore, to the charterers.

This must all be right. Admittedly it does leave claimants in a quandary when faced with defendants who, like the charterers in this case, deny that parties ever reached agreement and refuse to arbitrate. Do they have to go to the expense of an arbitration in the full knowledge that they may then have to traverse the same ground again in a court to prove that the arbitrator had jurisdiction to decide in their favour?

The solution suggested by Males LJ at [86], an agreement ad hoc to arbitrate the jurisdiction point, is certainly useful, though it requires agreement from the other party. A further possibility might be to amend s.32 of the Act. Currently this allows an application to the court to determine jurisdiction, but only with the agreement either of both parties or of the tribunal and the court. There is something to be said for relaxing this requirement where one party refuses to take part in the proceedings at all, and saying that in such a case either party can demand a court determination as of right. Ironically the threat to force on the other party a quick trip to the Commercial Court, with the extra costs that involves, might act as a wholesome encouragement to agree to the one-stop-shop businesspeople are always said to want and which Males LJ advocates.

The Law Commission, as it providentially happens, is currently looking at s.67 and s.32, and has a consultation paper out (in which it tentatively suggests, among other things, that a s.67 appeal should not be a rehearing except where the other party plays no part in the arbitration). This is perhaps another idea that could be discreetly fed to it. You have till 15 December, when the consultation closes, to get any proposals together.

Misdelivery by the carrier after discharge and the Article III Rule 6 time bar: the ‘Alhani gap’ is filled

FIMBank p.l.c. v KCH Shipping Co., Ltd [2022] EWHC 2400 (Comm)

The Commercial Court (Sir William Blair) has recently handed down judgment in FIMBank p.l.c. v KCH Shipping Co., Ltd, an appeal under section 69 of the Arbitration Act 1996, holding that the time bar in Article III rule 6 of the Hague-Visby Rules can apply to claims in relation to misdelivery after discharge. The Court’s decision resolves an important question which had not previously been decided by the English courts, and which has divided leading academic commentators as well as judges in other common law jurisdictions.

Background

The appeal relates to a claim brought by FIMBank p.l.c. (“FIMBank”), as the holder of bills of lading, for the alleged misdelivery of cargo by the contractual carrier, KCH Shipping Co., Ltd (“KCH”). The bills were concluded on the Congenbill form, and were subject to the Hague-Visby Rules, including the time bar in Article III r 6 of one year after delivery which applies to claims against carriers.

FIMBank served a Notice of Arbitration on KCH after that time bar expired. Its position was that its claim was nevertheless not caught by the time bar, contending that: (a) on the facts, delivery took place after discharge; and (b) as a matter of law, the time bar did not apply to claims for misdelivery occurring after discharge. In its submission, this was so given that the Hague-Visby Rules do not regulate a carrier’s obligation to deliver cargo (as opposed to the carriage of goods by sea), and only relate to a ‘period of responsibility’ which ends with the discharge of cargo. FIMBank further argued that the parties had, in any event, contractually disapplied the Rules in respect of the period after discharge, insofar as Clause 2(c) of the Congenbill form provided: “The Carrier shall in no case be responsible for loss and damage to the cargo, howsoever arising prior to loading into and after discharge from the Vessel …”.

In an Award on preliminary issues, the arbitral tribunal determined that FIMBank’s claim was time-barred irrespective of whether delivery post-dated discharge on the facts (which remained a matter in dispute). This was because: (i) the Hague[1]Visby Rules time bar can apply to claims relating to misdelivery occurring after discharge; and (ii) Clause 2(c) of the Congenbill form does not disapply the Rules in respect of the period after discharge.

The Court’s reasoning

The Court upheld the tribunal’s decision on both questions, and accordingly dismissed the appeal.

On the first question, it concluded that, on its true construction, Article III r 6 of the Hague-Visby Rules applies to claims for misdelivery of cargo after discharge. The Court noted that this conclusion avoided the need for fine distinctions as to the point at which discharge ended, and accorded with the objective of the rule which was intended to achieve finality and to enable the shipowner to clear its books. It further observed that, although certain common law authorities and commentaries might be said to support the construction of Article III r 6 for which FIMBank contended (including Carver on Charterparties and Voyage Charters), there was no international judicial or academic consensus to that effect.

The Court held that, even if its conclusion above was wrong, the tribunal’s decision was in any event justified by its finding that the bills of lading contained an implied term providing that the Hague-Visby Rules obligations and immunities are to continue after actual discharge and until delivery takes place, in line with the reasoning of the Court of Appeal in The MSC Amsterdam [2007] EWCA Civ 794.

On the second question, the Court held that, on a proper construction, Clause 2(c) did not disapply the Hague-Visby Rules to the period after discharge. Although FIMBank relied in this regard on The MSC Amsterdam, in which the express terms of the bill of lading concerned were held to have disapplied the Hague Rules after discharge, the Judge held that that decision did not warrant a different result, insofar as it featured a bill of lading with materially distinguishable terms.

Simon Rainey K.C. of Quadrant Chambers and Matthew Chan of Twenty Essex acted for KCH, instructed by Kyri Evagora and Thor Maalouf of Reed Smith LLP














Law Commission to review the Arbitration Act 1996

Yesterday, on 22 September 2022, the Law Commission for England and Wales published a public consultation paper unfolding provisional law reform proposals to ensure that the Arbitration Act 1996 remains state of art. After the Ministry of Justice asked the Commission to undertake a review of the Arbitration Act 1996 in 2021, the work began in January 2022. While consulting with a wide range of stakeholders in the field and assessing the current legal framework, the Commission has concluded that the Arbitration Act works very well, without any need for substantial reforms. However, it has been revealed that several discrete topics might necessitate amendments to ensure that the Act fits its purpose and continues to promote the UK as a leading destination for commercial arbitration. The Commission has drafted the consultation questions around the shortlisted aspects of arbitration:

1. Confidentiality

2. Independence of arbitrators and disclosure.

3. Discrimination. 

4. Immunity of arbitrators. 

5. Summary disposal of issues that lack merit. 

6. Interim measures ordered by the court in support of arbitral proceedings (section 44 of the Act). 

7. Jurisdictional challenges against arbitral awards (section 67). 

8. Appeals on a point of law (section 69). 

In addition, the Commission encourages consultees to suggest and comment on any other topics which are not covered in the consultation paper but might need reviewing.

The Commission welcomes responses to the paper between 22 September 2022 and 15 December 2022 using an online form, email, or post. After the consultation has been completed, the Commission will analyse the responses and ensure further stakeholder engagement as appropriate. The follow-up report of the final recommendations for law reform will be published by the Commission, and the Ministry of Justice together with other interested departments will decide whether to implement them.

More information on the reform project and the consultation paper are available at Review of the Arbitration Act 1996 | Law Commission.

The anti-suit injunction and state immunity.

UK P&I Club NV and Another v República Bolivariana de Venezuela (The RCGS Resolute) – [2022] EWHC 1655 (Comm), raises, for the first time, the question of the effect of a claim to state immunity when a party claims an anti-suit injunction against a State.

A Venezuelan navy patrol intercepted a cruise liner, ‘Resolute’, in March 2020. A collision resulted and the navy vessel suffered hull damage and eventually sank. ‘Resolute’ was insured by UK P&I Club NV, a subsidiary of United Kingdom Steam-Ship Assurance Association. The Club’s Rules contained the two usual provisions relating to coverage: a “pay to be paid” clause under which liability to provide indemnity was postponed until actual payment of damages by the owners; and an English law and London arbitration clause.

In 2020 Venezuela brought civil claims in the courts of Dutch Curaçao and Venezuela against Resolute, the owners, head managers and the Clubs. The Clubs obtained an ex parte interim anti-suit injunction against Venezuela in the High Court and then sought a permanent anti-suit injunction against Venezuela to restrain it from pursuing both sets of foreign proceedings, on the basis that its direct action claim against them was subject to London arbitration.

Sir Ross Cranston held that Venezuela’s claim against the Clubs had been made under local legislation permitting a direct action. If the local law treats the claim as derived from the insurance policy the arbitration clause would be binding. He concluded that this was the case here and by pursuing judicial proceedings Venezuela was in breach of the arbitration clause. This was a ‘quasi-contractual’ claim which would be treated in the same way as a contractual claim. The court would ordinarily exercise its discretion to restrain the pursuit of proceedings brought in breach of an arbitration or jurisdiction clause, unless the injunction defendant could show strong reasons to refuse the relief.

However, there was the question of state immunity to consider. Although the commercial activity exception in s.3(1)(a) and the arbitration exception in s9(1)(a) of the State Immunity Act 1978 applied and meant that Venezuela did not have adjudicative immunity, it did have enforcement immunity under section 13(2)(a) which clearly states “relief shall not be given against a State by way of injunction …” Adjudicative immunity and enforcement immunity were separate and did not stand or fall together.

Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights applied in that s.13(2) deprived the Clubs of a remedy otherwise available to them. However Article 6 was not infringed as under customary international law there was no generally recognised right to an anti-suit injunction and section 13(2)(a) lies within the range of possible rules consistent with current international standards. Section13(2)(a) could also be justified as well by reference to legitimate domestic policy, if pursued by proportionate means.

Sir Ross Cranston noted [124]: “Finally, the fact that the Clubs will not have an injunction preventing parallel proceedings does not render worthless their right to have Venezuela’s claims determined by way of London arbitration. As well as an order to this effect, there may also be supportive remedies available to the Clubs including, at least in a contractual context, the compensation for breach of the arbitration agreement and declaratory relief which the Clubs are seeking in the arbitration, and which could be relied upon to resist enforcement of any judgment which Venezuela obtains in the foreign proceedings.”

The position may be different in respect of an anti-suit injunction ordered by arbitrators pursuant to their powers under s48(5) of the Arbitration Act 1996. In The London Steam-Ship Owners’ Mutual Insurance Association Ltd v The Kingdom of Spain [2020] EWHC 1582 (Comm) Henshaw J held that this was a matter for the arbitrators at first instance, but stated [188]:  “I consider the better view to be that SIA section 13 governs the exercise but not the existence of the court’s power to grant an injunction, and that AA 1996 section 48 permits an arbitrator to grant an injunction against a state.”

Halliburton v Chubb: Is Timing Everything?

Simon Rainey QC and Gaurav Sharma

On 27 November 2020, the Supreme Court handed down its highly anticipated judgment in Halliburton Company v Chubb Bermuda Insurance Ltd [2020] UKSC 48, unanimously dismissing Halliburton’s appeal.  In doing so, it found that, at the relevant time of assessment, a fair-minded observer would not have considered that the circumstances gave rise to reasonable doubts as to the impartiality of the chairman of the tribunal hearing the parties’ dispute arising out of the Deepwater Horizon incident in 2010.

Critics of the decision will undoubtedly focus on the consequences of the court’s view that the “relevant time” was the time of the hearing to remove chairman under section 24(1)(a) of the Arbitration Act 1996 (the Act), rather than the time of his acceptance of an appointment by Chubb in a separate arbitration – also relating to non-payment by Chubb under an insurance policy related to the Deepwater Horizon incident – around six months after his appointment in the arbitration between Halliburton and Chubb.

However, the decision brings finality to a key issue in the English law of arbitration, namely the existence of a legal duty to disclose an arbitrator’s participation in other arbitrations involving the same subject matter and a common party.  In addition, it delivers clarity in relation to certain other aspects of disclosure and arbitral practice more generally – notably including the interaction between the duty of disclosure on one hand and the obligation of confidentiality on the other, and the application of the English rules on disclosure just as equally to party-appointed arbitrators as to tribunal chairs.

The Disputes, The Arbitrations, The Appeals

The Deepwater Horizon was an offshore oil and gas drilling rig leased by BP and operated by Transocean at BP’s Macondo Prospect in the Gulf of Mexico.  Cementing and well monitoring services were provided by Halliburton.  On 20 April 2010, the rig experienced a major blowout in the course of the temporary abandonment and plugging of a well, resulting in the tragic loss of several rig workers’ lives, significant oil spills and environmental damage, and the sinking of the rig on 22 April 2010.

The US Government brought proceedings against BP, Transocean and Halliburton in relation to the damage caused by the incident.  A trial to determine liability before the Federal Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana resulted in a judgment on 4 September 2014 apportioning blame in percentage terms as between the three defendants.  Halliburton settled certain of the US Government’s claims against it in the amount of US$1.1 billion, but its liability insurer, Chubb, resisted its subsequent insurance claims on the basis that the settlement amount was not reasonable.  Accordingly, Halliburton commenced London arbitration proceedings against Chubb under its Bermuda Form policy, resulting in the High Court’s appointment on 12 June 2015 of Mr Kenneth Rokison QC as chair of the tribunal in default of agreement by the two party-appointed arbitrators.

Mr Rokison subsequently accepted an appointment by Chubb in December 2015 in its separate arbitration with Transocean arising out of the same incident following Transocean’s settlement of claims with the US Government; and an appointment in a third arbitration arising out of the same incident between Transocean and another insurer in August 2016.

At the time, Mr Rokison made no disclosure in the arbitration between Halliburton and Chubb of his appointment in the other two references.  In November 2016, Halliburton became aware of these appointments and applied to the court pursuant to section 24(1)(a) of the Act to remove him as chair of the tribunal on the grounds of perceived bias. The High Court dismissed the application following a hearing on 12 January 2017 and Halliburton appealed against this decision.  The Court of Appeal dismissed Halliburton’s appeal, resulting in Halliburton’s appeal to the Supreme Court.

The Legal Duty To Disclose Multiple Appointments With A Common Party

The issues before the Supreme Court were (i) whether and to what extent an arbitrator may accept appointments in multiple references concerning the same or overlapping subject matter with only one common party without thereby giving rise to an appearance of bias, and (ii) whether and to what extent the arbitrator may do so without disclosure.

Giving the leading judgment, Lord Hodge made clear that in cases of apparent bias such as the present, the court was not concerned “to ‘make windows into men’s souls’ in search of an animus against a party or any other actual bias, whether conscious or unconscious.”  Instead, its task was to examine “how things appear objectively”.  [Para. 52]

The analysis was done in the context of section 24(1)(a) of the Act which allows for the removal of an arbitrator where “circumstances exist that give rise to justifiable doubts” as to the arbitrator’s impartiality.  The court considered that this could be the case “if the arbitrator at and from the date of his or her appointment had such knowledge of undisclosed circumstances as would, unless the parties waived the obligation, render him or her liable to be removed under section 24 of the 1996 Act”.  Agreeing with the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed that this gave rise to a legal duty to make a disclosure of such matters which would otherwise cause the arbitrator to be in breach of their “statutory obligation of fairness”.  In other words, “an arbitrator who knowingly fails to act in a way which fairness requires to the potential detriment of a party is guilty of partiality”.  [Para. 78]

The court accepted the submissions of the ICC, LCIA and CIArb who favoured the recognition of such a legal duty in international arbitration proceedings; and those of the GAFTA and the LMAA to the effect that parties who chose to arbitrate their commodities and shipping disputes under those specialist rules understood that the smaller pool of specialist arbitrators involved might well act in multiple arbitrations arising out of the same subject matter, without needing to disclose that fact.  Lady Arden reinforced the importance of having clear evidence of a practice of dispensing with parties’ consent for arbitrators to appear in multiple arbitrations: while the English courts might trust arbitrators to decide cases on the basis of the evidence before them and set aside any inequality of arms and material asymmetry of information, this was something that “may not translate easily for the many parties to arbitrations who are familiar with different legal systems”. [Para 164]

Right Place, Wrong Time

The question therefore arose whether participants in Bermuda Form arbitrations would typically expect disclosure of an arbitrator’s involvement in related arbitrations.  The court found no evidence of parties acceding to a general practice of non-disclosure, which was also consistent with the fact that Mr Rokison had made disclosures to the parties in the other two arbitrations that arose out of the present subject matter of his role in the arbitration between Halliburton and Chubb.  Accordingly, the court found that Mr Rokison’s appointment in the second and third arbitrations should have been disclosed to Halliburton, and his failure to do so was a breach of legal duty which meant that a fair-minded and informed observer may well have concluded that there was a real possibility of bias.  [Para 147]

Ultimately this was of little consequence, however, as the court ruled that the relevant time for the determination of possible bias was not when he was appointed in the second reference (December 2015) – but the date of the hearing of the application to remove him as an arbitrator (January 2017).

This, said the court, was because of section 24(1)(a) of the Act’s use of the present tense requiring an examination of whether circumstances “exist” when the issue of an arbitrator’s removal arises for determination by the court.  By the time of the removal hearing concerning Mr Rokison, Halliburton had discovered his appointment in the other arbitrations and questioned him about that in correspondence, resulting in him providing an explanation for his failure to disclose – based on an oversight and belief that there would not be material overlap between the different sets of proceedings.  Halliburton accepted this explanation as being truthful, and the court was not persuaded that a fair-minded and informed observer assessing the situation at the date of the removal hearing – having the benefit of Mr Rokison’s explanation for his failure to disclose – would infer that there was a real possibility of bias on Mr Rokison’s part.  [Para 149]

So, Arbitrators Have A Statutory Duty to Disclose.  But What If They Don’t?

In their judgments, both Lord Hodge and Lady Arden recognised the risk of affirming the existence of the legal duty to make a disclosure which might not lead to an arbitrator’s disqualification or removal if not complied with.  Lady Arden acknowledged that “There is a concern that the duty of disclosure carries no sanction if an application is made to the court about a non-disclosure by the arbitrator and fails.”  But in her view, this missed the point, which was that “it would still be a breach of the terms of appointment with such consequences, if any, as the law of contract prescribes.  In addition, a person may commit a breach of contract but incur no liability as a result, and the situation postulated falls into that category.”  [Para 169]

Lord Hodge explained how in circumstances of a breach of the legal duty to disclose, an “arbitrator might, depending on the circumstances, face an order to meet some or all of the costs of the unsuccessful challenger or to bear the costs of his or her own defence.” [Para 111]
In other words, the failure would amount to a breach of a strictly legal obligation with the usual consequences associated with such a breach – though it would have no bearing on the situation obtaining at the date of a removal hearing and the assessment to be carried out then. 

Conclusion

The Supreme Court’s decision may cause disquiet in some quarters, especially amongst those who expect a failure to make a material disclosure to have more significant consequences – notably disqualifying an arbitrator from acting, or continuing to act, altogether.  The fact that the disclosable information in this case came to light by chance will only reinforce the sense of arbitrariness that some observers may have in the idea of assessing the issue at some point in time after the disclosure should have been made, but was not.  This in turn risks perpetuating any concerns participants in international arbitration proceedings may have as to the willingness and ability of English law to police the conduct of those who decide their disputes and their failure to make material disclosures affecting the fairness of proceedings.

More generally, one cannot help but wonder whether the court’s decision might result in some arbitrators showing less concern for their duty to make disclosures of relevant information in English-seated arbitrations in future.  This would be a shame, especially in light of the highly confidential nature of commercial arbitration and the difficulty of obtaining credible information as to the reliability and trustworthiness of arbitrators in advance of appointment as things stand.

However, it is not a given, and we must hope that it will not be the case.  Further, we should welcome the fact that the court’s decision brings clarity as to the nature of an arbitrator’s legal duty of disclosure, and how and when the examination of apparent bias will fall to be conducted.

Equally, we should be thankful for the court’s clarification as to the interaction between the duty to disclose involvement in multiple proceedings and any duties of confidentiality owed by that arbitrator to the various parties involved across the disputes.  Lady Arden explained that “the implied term as to confidentiality is independent of the implied term that the arbitrator should comply with his impartiality duty. It is truly a self-standing term”.  [Para 175.]  A customary high-level disclosure made on an anonymised basis will usually suffice to provide a party with the necessary information to enable it to assess whether or not it wishes to object to an arbitrator’s appointment.  However, if further information that is confidential is reasonably required by a party to make that assessment and would require another party’s consent in order to be divulged, then “if consent is not forthcoming, the arbitrator will have to decline the proposed appointment”.  [Para. 188]  It is not hard to appreciate the reasonableness of Lady Arden’s logic: arbitrators are, for better or worse, private judges who undertake paid appointments on a commercial and contractual basis.  If a request for consent to provide detailed information is made in the context of “the voluntary decision of the arbitrator to pursue a further appointment” (para. 180) and refused, then that is tough luck for the arbitrator in question who will simply “have to decline the proposed appointment”.  (Para. 188).

Finally, we should congratulate the Supreme Court for spelling out in terms that party-appointed arbitrators are subject to precisely the same obligations, and precisely the same standards, as tribunal chairs when it comes to impartiality and considerations of fairness.  This point was made in passing in reference to Halliburton’s appointment of Mr William Park as its arbitrator in three references against different insurers in insurance claims arising out of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, without any disclosure; juxtaposed with Mr Park’s statement of “profound disquiet about the arbitration’s fairness” made when the award was rendered in the Halliburton v Chubb arbitration, based on Mr Rokison’s non-disclosure of other appointments (Para. 26).  The court was, understandably, unimpressed by the suggestion that a party-appointed arbitrator should be afforded greater leniency in respect of his or her choice of disclosures compared with a chair, since “that is not a distinction which English law would recognise as a basis for a party-appointee avoiding the obligation of disclosure.  The disagreement among people involved in international arbitration as to the role of the party-appointed arbitrator is a circumstance which points to the disclosure of such multiple nominations; it does not provide a ground for nondisclosure”.  (Para 144).  This view echoes the position taken by the courts of other major arbitral centres around the world in relation to the strict disclosure obligations of party-appointed arbitrators (see for example the 25 February 2020 decision International Commercial Chamber of the Paris Court of Appeal in Dommo v Barra y Enauta).  Moreover, it is hugely reassuring to hear the court reaffirm what all participants in international arbitration proceedings hope and expect to be the case in respect of each and every one of the arbitrators mandated with the resolution of their legal dispute.

Non signatory third parties, the New York Convention and enforcement of arbitration agreements in the US. SCOTUS says ‘Yes, they can’.

In 2007, ThyssenKrupp Stainless USA, LLC, entered into three contracts with F. L. Industries, Inc., for the construction of cold rolling mills at ThyssenKrupp’s steel manufacturing plant in Alabama. Each of the contracts contained an identical arbitration clause.  F. L. Industries, Inc., then entered into a subcontractor agreement with GE Energy Power Conversion France SAS, Corp. (GE Energy), under which  GE Energy agreed to design, manufacture, and supply motors for the cold rolling mills. Between 2011 and 2012, GE Energy delivered nine motors to the Alabama plant for installation. Soon thereafter, respondent Outokumpu Stainless USA, LLC, acquired ownership of the plant from ThyssenKrupp.

According to Outokumpu, GE Energy’s motors failed by the summer of 2015, resulting in substantial damages. Outokumpu and its insurers filed suit against GE Energy in Alabama state court in 2016 and GE Energy removed the case to federal court under 9 U. S. C. §205, which authorizes the removal of an action from state to federal court if the action “relates to an arbitration agreement . . . falling under the Convention [on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards].” GE Energy then moved to dismiss and compel arbitration, relying on the arbitration clauses in the contracts between F. L. Industries, Inc., and ThyssenKrupp which defined the terms “Seller” and “Parties” to include subcontractors. 

The District Court granted GE Energy’s motion to dismiss and compel arbitration with Outokumpu and Sompo Japan Insurance Company of America. 

The Eleventh Circuit reversed the District as including a “requirement that the parties actually sign an agreement to arbitrate their disputes in order to compel arbitration.” This requirement was not satisfied because “GE Energy is undeniably not a signatory to the Contracts.” It further held  that GE Energy could not rely on state-law equitable estoppel doctrines to enforce the arbitration agreement as a non signatory because, in the court’s view, equitable estoppel conflicts with the Convention’s signatory requirement. The equitable estoppel doctrine permits a non-signatory to a contract which contains an arbitration clause to rely on that arbitration clause when the signatory asserts claims that implicate the contract.

The Supreme Court first found that in cases which fall under Chapter 1 of the U.S. Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), which governs domestic and other arbitrations seated in the U.S., non-signatories may enforce arbitration clauses against signatories.

The Supreme Court then held that the only provision of the New York Convention that addresses the enforcement of arbitration agreements was Article II(3) and the nonexclusive language of that provision did not set a ceiling that tacitly precludes the use of domestic law to enforce arbitration agreements. This states that “[t]he court of a Contracting State, when seized of an action in a matter in respect of which the parties have made an agreement within the meaning of this article, shall, at the request of one of the parties, refer the parties to arbitration, unless it finds that the said agreement is null and void, inoperative or incapable of being performed. Nothing in the text of the Convention “conflict[s] with” the application of domestic equitable estoppel doctrines permitted under Chapter 1 of the FAA. 9 U. S. C. §208.

The Court subsequently remanded the case to the Eleventh Circuit to decide whether applicable domestic-law equitable estoppel doctrines would permit GE Energy to compel arbitration.

The Deepwater Horizon liability insurance case. The arbitrator’s duty of disclosure and removal under s.24 of the Arbitration Act 1996.

Halliburton Company (Appellant) v Chubb Bermuda Insurance Ltd (formerly known as Ace Bermuda Insurance Ltd) (Respondent)  [2020] UKSC 48 was a dispute relating to the appointment of Mr Ken Rokison QC as sole arbitrator under a liability insurance policy which arose out of damage caused by an explosion and fire on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico. The relevant parties were BP Exploration and Production Inc. (“BP”) the the lessee of the Deepwater Horizon rig, Transocean Holdings LLC (“Transocean”) the owner of the rig and provider of crew and drilling teams to BP, and, Halliburton Company (“Halliburton”)who provided cementing and well-monitoring services to BP.

Halliburton and Transocean both entered into a Bermuda Form liability policy with the respondent, Chubb Bermuda Insurance Ltd (“Chubb”). A  US judgment was given apportioning blame between the parties, and Halliburton settled the claims against it. Chubb refused to pay out  under the liability policy, contending that Halliburton’s settlement was not a reasonable settlement. The same happened to Transocean. The Bermuda Form provided for arbitration.

Mr Rokison was appointed as sole arbitrator in Halliburton’s arbitration against Chubb, after the parties were unable to agree a third arbitrator. Subsequently Mr Rokson was appointed as an arbitrator in two further Deepwater Horizon references. The first appointment was made by Chubb and related to Transocean’s claim against Chubb. The second was a joint nomination by the parties involved in a claim by Transocean against another insurer.

When Halliburton discovered this they applied to the court under section 24 of the Arbitration Act 1996 to remove Mr Rokison as an arbitrator. That application was refused. The Court of Appeal then found that, while Mr Rokison’s proposed appointment in the subsequent references should have been disclosed to Halliburton, an objective observer would not in the circumstances conclude there was a real possibility of bias.

On Friday the Supreme Court unanimously agreed, Lord Hodge giving the principal judgment, and dismissed the appeal. In considering an allegation of apparent bias against an arbitrator, the test is whether the fair-minded and informed observer would conclude there is a real possibility of bias. The duty of disclosure is a legal duty and not simply good arbitral practice, and is a component of the arbitrator’s statutory obligations of fairness and impartiality. It does not, however, override the arbitrator’s duty of privacy and confidentiality. The duty of disclosure requires the arbitrator to disclose matters which might reasonably give rise to justifiable doubts as to his or her impartiality, and a failure to do so is a factor for the fair-minded and informed observer to take into account in assessing whether there is a real possibility of bias, having regard to the facts and circumstances known at the time of the hearing to remove the arbitrator.

Five factors pointed against any finding of bias. First, at the time, it had not been clear that there was a legal duty of disclosure. Secondly, the Transocean arbitrations had commenced several months after the Halliburton arbitration. Thirdly,  in his measured response to Halliburton’s challenge Mr Rokison hadexplained that it was likely the subsequent references would be resolved by a preliminary issue (as they in fact were) and that, if they were not, he would consider resigning from the Transocean arbitrations. Fourthly, there was no question of his having received any secret financial benefit. Fifth, there was no basis for inferring any unconscious ill will on his part.

Times’ up. NBF gets s.12 extension.

The fate of Times’ anti-suit injunction against National Bank of Fujairah was reported in this blog on May 6 2020 –  they got their injunction on condition not to take any time bar point in any subsequent arbitration against them commenced by NBF.

Shortly afterwards, in National Bank of Fujairah v Times Trading Corp [2020] EWHC 1983 (Comm) Foxton J came part two of the saga. NBF had commenced arbitration against the registered owners, Rosalind, within the one year time limit under the Hague Rules, in respect of misdelivery. This expired on 20 June 2019. Shortly after receiving a copy of the bareboat charter, after months of asking, on 20 March NBF then made an application under s.12 of the Arbitration Act 1996, in respect of its claim against bareboat charterer, Times, on the assumption that the one year time bar applied to that claim.

In the first period before 18 January 2019 Times, through their solicitors, Waterson Hicks (WH), communicated in a manner which implied, and contributed to the belief of R&T, acting for NBF, that WH acted for the carrier liable under the Bills of Lading, and for the entity to whom the claims were appropriately addressed. WH acted innocently but Times knew the true position. In the second period after 18 January 2019, the conduct of WH, and of Times, was open to more criticism. The objective effect of the communications of WH and Holman Fenwick and Willan, solicitors for charterers Trafigura who became responsible for handling NBF’s misdelivery claims on behalf of Rosalind and Times, conveyed an impression which did not accord with the facts as Times and the parties acting for them understood them.

The question before Foxton J was whether the effect of this conduct such as to render it unjust hold NBF to the strict terms of the time bar. As regards the first period, the impression given on Times’ behalf, in ignorance of the true position up to 18 January 2019 and with knowledge of it thereafter, was a significant factor in NBF missing the time bar, such that the requisite causative nexus is established which made it unjust to hold NBF to the strict terms of the time bar. The jurisdictional threshold under s.12(3)(b) – whether the respondent’s conduct makes it unjust not to extend time – was satisfied.

On the matter of discretion, it was right to say that there had been significant culpable delay by NBF in failing to seek s.12 relief before it did – delay measured in months rather than merely weeks or days. The delay was particularly difficult to justify from early November 2019, when NBF did not appear to have taken the possibility that Times might be the carrier seriously. However, this was not a case in which it could be said that Times itself played no part in NBF’s delay in the period after 18 July 2019 when Reed Smith sent its letter advising that Rosalind was not the carrier, and that it was Times. However, the continuing refusal to provide a copy of the demise charter could be regarded as a continuation of the approach which had been adopted by or on behalf of Times before 18 July 2019, and which made it unjust to enforce the strict time bar against NBF. Its clear contribution to NBF’s delay in seeking s.12 relief was seen in the fact that, once the Bareboat Charter was produced for the purposes of Times application for an anti-suit injunction, NBF prepared and issued its s.12 application within short order.

The fault of NBF was not a reason for denying its application for relief under s.12, and NBF got its extension.

Delay and discretion with the anti-suit injunction.

 

The anti-suit injunction is a discretionary remedy. Even when the foreign proceedings are clearly in breach of a High Court jurisdiction clause or a London arbitration clause, you may not get your remedy. The principle reason for the court not issuing the ASI is delay in applying for the remedy and allowing the foreign proceedings to become advanced. Issues of justice and comity coincide here, but what length of delay will incline the court not to grant you the ASI you have set your heart on?

This was the issue in the recent Commercial Court decision of Henshaw J in Daiichi Chuo Kisen Kaisha v Chubb Seguros Brasil SA [2020] EWHC 1223 (Comm) (15 May 2020). A cargo claim arose out of a collision, brought by cargo insurers, Chubb. In March 2016 Chubb started arbitration in London against the owners Fair Wind under the owners’ bill which incorporated a London arbitration clause. In November Chubb commenced proceedings in Brazil against Mizuho the vessel managers, Daiichi, the time charterer, and Noble Resources, an associated company of the voyage charterer, who had Resources used vessel to perform a shipment under a COA with CSN Handel, claiming US$2.7m.

In August 2017 owners and Mizuho issued an arbitration claim form in the Commercial Court seeking an ASI against Chubb in respect of the Brazilian proceedings against Mizuho, and in October Knowles J granted the ASI Mizuho in Brazil. A month later Daiichi’s obtained from Chubb an undertaking mirroring the order of Knowles J. On 26 June 2019 the Brazilian Superior Court of Justice finally rejected Chubb’s amendment claim.

Time charterers, Daiichi, and Chubb then jointly requested a stay of Brazilian proceedings for six months, “ without prejudice to any of their rights (including, in relation to the defendants, the right to challenge the Brazilian court’s jurisdiction, in view of the arbitration clause contained in the Bills of Lading and Charter Party”. In March 2020 Chubb filed substantive defences to the defence and jurisdiction challenges of Noble Resources and then of Daiichi, claiming that the bill of lading arbitration clauses did not apply to them as the subrogated insurer. This was a clear breach of the undertakings previously given to Noble Resources and to Daiichi.  A Court order in Brazil of 23 April 2020 gave Daiichi and Noble Resources until 25 May 2020 to respond to Chubb’s latest submissions.

The principles relevant to delay were set out by Bryan J in Qingdao Huiquan Shipping Co v Shanghai Dong He Xin Industry Group Co Ltd [2018] EWHC 3009 (Comm); [2019] 1 Lloyd’s Rep. 520.

“(1) There is no rule as to what will constitute excessive delay in absolute terms. The court will need to assess all the facts of the particular case: see Essar Shipping Ltd v Bank of China Ltd (The Kishore) [2016] 1 Lloyd’s Rep 427 at paras 51 to 52 per Walker J.

(2) The question of delay and the question of comity are linked. The touchstone is likely to be the extent to which delay in applying for anti-suit relief has materially increased the perceived interference with the process of the foreign court or led to a waste of its time or resources: see Ecobank Transnational Inc v Tanoh [2016] 1 Lloyd’s Rep 360 at paras 129 to 135 per Christopher Clarke LJ; The Kishore at para 43; and see also Sea Powerful II Special Maritime Enterprises (ENE) v Bank of China Ltd [2017] 1 HKC 153 at para 21 per Kwan JA.

(3) When considering whether there has been unacceptable delay a relevant consideration is the time at which the applicant’s legal rights had become sufficiently clear to justify applying for anti-suit relief: see, for example, Sabbagh v Khoury [2018] EWHC 1330 (Comm) at paras 33 to 36 per Robin Knowles J.”[29]

Here the relevant period of delay did not start until Chubb’s change of tack in the Brazilian proceedings. Chubb was, from June 2019 until March 2020 actively co-operating with Daiichi to defer any further substantive proceedings in Brazil, and thus could reasonably be regarded by Daiichi as neither breaching nor threatening to breach the Undertaking. Daiichi and Noble Resources were not, in any substantive sense, actively engaging in the proceedings in Brazilian but rather, with Chubb’s express and active support, seeking to defer them. Such positive steps as were taken were taken only out of necessity or on a precautionary basis. It must have been clear to Chubb at all material times that such steps did not indicate that Daiichi or Noble Resources were content to allow the Brazilian court to decide the jurisdiction issues and, if relevant, the merits. Any legal expenses incurred by Chubb in this period would have been limited. This case was not one where a party who simply allows foreign proceedings to take their course, subject to making a jurisdiction challenge, when faced with a claim brought in breach of a jurisdiction or arbitration agreement. There had been no material delay by Daiichi following the revival of Chubb’s position in the Brazilian proceedings.

Nor did considerations of comity towards the Brazilian court weigh against the grant of such relief. Chubb argued that proceedings were now at an advanced stage, with a risk of judgment on the merits very soon, so to grant an anti-suit injunction would in effect be to ‘snatch the pen’ from the Brazilian judge’s hand. However, since June 2019 the only step taken in relation to the substantive merits has been the precautionary filing of Noble Resources’ defence in September 2019 and Chubb’s reply of 2 March 2020. The Brazilian court had not yet assumed jurisdiction over any of the defendants and it could not be said that it was poised to pass judgment on the merits. Although time which elapses during a jurisdiction challenge in the foreign court is still relevant when considering delay, it did not follow, however, that the mere making of a jurisdiction challenge in the foreign court made any subsequent anti-suit injunction inconsistent with considerations of comity. This was not a case of the ‘two bites of the cherry’ strategy of awaiting the foreign court’s outcome before seeking an anti-suit injunction.

A mandatory injunction was ordered as it was necessary to require Chubb to discontinue otherwise there would now be a real risk that the Brazilian court would proceed to judgment on the merits at some stage after 25 May. Daiichi, to whom the undertaking had been given, wished the injunction to extend to proceedings against Noble Resources, because it feared that otherwise Noble Resources would seek to pass any liability ‘up the line’ to Daiichi. Daiichi had shown a sufficient interest in enforcing the injunction as regards claims against Noble Resources. It was not unlikely that some form of contractual arrangement existed under which Noble Resources could pass up to Noble Chartering, and hence to Daiichi, any liabilities which as between owners and charterers would fall on owners.

 

 

Prestige 3.0 — the saga continues

The Spanish government and SS Mutual are clearly digging in for the long haul over the Prestige pollution debacle eighteen years ago. To recap, the vessel at the time of the casualty was entered with the club under a contract containing a pay to be paid provision and a London arbitration clause. Spain prosecuted the master and owners and, ignoring the arbitration provision, came in as partie civile and recovered a cool $1 bn directly from the club in the Spanish courts. The club meanwhile obtained an arbitration award in London saying that the claim against it had to be arbitrated not litigated, which it enforced under s.66 of the AA 1996 and then used in an attempt to stymie Spain’s bid to register and enforce its court judgment here under Brussels I (a bid now the subject of proceedings timed for this coming December).

In the present proceedings, London Steam-Ship Owners’ Mutual Insurance Association Ltd v Spain (M/T PRESTIGE) [2020] EWHC 1582 (Comm) the club sought essentially to reconvene the arbitration to obtain from the tribunal an ASI against Spain and/or damages for breach of the duty to arbitrate and/or abide by the previous award, covering such things as its costs in the previous s.66 proceedings. By way of machinery it sought to serve out under s 18 of the 1996 Act. Spain claimed sovereign immunity and said these further claims were not arbitrable.

The immunity claim nearly succeeded, but fell at the last fence. There was, Henshaw J said, no agreement to arbitrate under s.9 of the State Immunity Act 1978, which would have sidelined immunity: Spain might be bound not to raise the claim except in arbitration under the principle in The Yusuf Cepnioglu [2016] EWCA Civ 386, but this did not amount to an agreement to arbitrate. Nor was there, on the facts, any submission within s.2. However, he then decided that s.3, the provision about taking part in commercial activities, was applicable and allowed Spain to be proceeded against.

Having disposed of the sovereign immunity point, it remained to see whether the orders sought against Spain — an ASI or damages — were available in the arbitration. Henshaw J thought it well arguable that they were. Although Spain could not be sued for breach of contract, since it had never in so many words promised not to sue the club, it was arguable that neither Brussels I nor s.13 of the 1978 Act barred the ASI claim in the arbitration, and that if an ASI might be able to be had, then there must be at least a possibility of damages in equity under Lord Cairns’s Act.

No doubt there will be an appeal. But this decision gives new hope to P&I and other interests faced with opponents who choose, even within the EU, to treat London arbitration agreements as inconsequential pieces of paper to be ignored with comparative immunity.