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.

“VACCESS”. That AstraZeneca contract – terms and conditions apply.

Following last week’s storm in a vaccine vial between the EU, the UK, and AstraZeneca, a redacted version of the contested contract was published last Friday. Here are the salient provisions, with cl. 18.7 being relevant in the event of the UK placing an embargo on export of vaccines produced at plants within the UK. Clause 5.1 imposes the obligation to use” best reasonable efforts” to manufacture the initial Europe doses. Cl 5.4 again refers to the use of best reasonable efforts to manufacture the vaccine at manufacturing sites within the UK, including those in the UK. This seems to be at odds with what the EU President stated on 29 January that the “best-effort” clause was only valid as long as it was not clear whether AstraZeneca could develop a vaccine.

In construing cl. 13(e) reference needs to be made back to cl.5.1 in determining what “conflicts with or is inconsistent in any material respect with the terms of this Agreement or that would impede the complete fulfilment of its obligations under this Agreement.”

Under clauses 18.4/5 the contract is subject to Belgian Law and Belgian jurisdiction.

“5.1 Initial Europe Dose. AstraZeneca shall use its Best Reasonable efforts to manufacture the Initial Europe Doses within the EU for distribution, and to deliver to the Distribution  Hubs, following Eu marketing authorization, as set forth more full in Section 7. Approximately…..2020 Q1 2021 and (iii) the remainder of the Initial Europe Doses by the end of …..

5.4 Manufacturing Sites. AstraZeneca shall use its Best Reasonable Efforts to manufacture the Vaccine at manufacturing sites located within the EU ( which for the purpose of this Section 5.4. only shall include the United Kingdom) and may manufacture the Vaccine in non-Eu facilities, if appropriate, to accelerate supply of the  Vaccine in Europe….

13 Representations and Warranties.

AstraZeneca represents, warrants and covenants to the Commission and the Participating Member States that:

(e) it is not under any obligation, contractual or otherwise, to any Person or third party in respect of the Initial Europe Doses or that conflicts with or is inconsistent in any material respect with the terms of this Agreement or that would impede the complete fulfilment of its obligations under this Agreement.

18.7. No liability of either party for failure or delay caused by or results from “events beyond the reasonable control of the non-performing party including…embargoes, shortages…(except to the extent such delay results from the breach by the non-performing Party or any of its Affiliates of any term or condition of this Agreement.

The situation or event must not be attributable to negligence on the part of the parties or on the part of the subcontractors.

The non-performing Party shall notify the other Party of such force majeure promptly following such occurrence takes place by giving written notice to the other Party stating the nature of the event, its anticipated  duration (to the extent known) and any action being taken to avoid or minimize its effect. The suspension of performance shall be of no greater scope and no longer durations than is necessary and the non-performing Party shall use Best Reasonable Efforts to remedy its inability to perform and limit any damage.”

Canada and the UK are the countries that have ordered the most vaccines per head of population at 9.6 and 5.5 per person respectively. The figure for the African Union is 0.2 per person.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jan/29/canada-and-uk-among-countries-with-most-vaccine-doses-ordered-per-person

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.

Something for the New Year. INCOTERMS 2020 are coming.

INCOTERMS 2010 will be updated to INCOTERMS 2020 which comes into effect on 1 January 2020. The main changes are as follows.

Under FCA if the parties agree, the buyer, at its cost and risk, must instruct the carrier to issue to the seller a transport document (e.g. a bill of lading with an on-board notation) stating that the goods have been loaded, which the seller must then provide to the buyer.

Under CIP sellers will need to obtain cargo insurance cover which complies with Clauses (A) of the Institute Cargo Clauses (LMA / IUA) which, subject to certain exclusions, cover “all risks”, subject to the parties’ right to agree to a higher or lower level of cover.

DAT (Delivered at Terminal) now becomes DPU (Delivered at Place Unloaded).

FCA, DAP, DPU now allow the Seller to use its own transport rather than using a third party carrier.

Security obligations are made more prominent.

No implied term qualifying free standing demurrage provision in sale contract

 In Gunvor SA v CruGas Yemen Ltd [2018] EWHC 2061 (Comm) a term contract of sale was made for the sale of  gasoline by 12 monthly consignments cif Hodeidah. The buyer was named as CruGas Ltd but the claimant argued that the contract was made with CruGas Yemen Ltd, and that it had been unaware that within the relevant group there was a Cayman Islands company named CruGas Ltd. The claimant obtained performing vessels from a separate entity within its group of companies, Clearlake Shipping Pte Ltd (Clearlake), under a long-term contract of affreightment on an amended Asbatankvoy form. It claimed demurrage totalling $18m under the sale contract and claimed against CruGas Yemen Ltd and CruGas Ltd in the alternative. The defendants denied liability for demurrage on three grounds. First, the demurrage claims were time-barred by reason of a demurrage time bar provision in the COA. Second, a term should be implied into the sale contract that the claimant was required to prove the demurrage rates claimed were “in line with the market rate”. Third, the claimant had to prove that it paid the demurrage sums it claimed under the sale contract.

Phillips J first found that the contract had been made with CruGas Yemen Ltd, and then proceeded to reject all three of the buyer’s arguments. First, it was established in OK Petroleum AB v Vitol Energy SA [1995] 2 Lloyd’s Rep 160 that words of general incorporation in a sales contract concerning demurrage provisions in a separate charter did not bring in terms ancillary to the accrual of demurrage, such as time bars relating to the presentation of demurrage claims. Second, there was no justification for the implication of the term contended for, which was neither necessary for the business efficacy of the sale contract, nor would give effect to the obvious but unexpressed intentions of the parties at the time they contracted. In any event, expert evidence from a chartering expert, was that the demurrage rates were all consistent with the market, insofar as such a thing could be said. Third, the demurrage provision under the sale contract was free-standing and not an indemnity.

 

Rotterdam Rules in Cameroon’s hat-trick of international trade conventions.

 

Just over a year ago on 11 October 2017 Cameroon ratified or acceded to three UNCITRAL Conventions.

  1. Cameroon ratified the Rotterdam Rules. There are now four states that have ratified. Sixteen more to go before the Convention comes into force. At the current rate we’ll be there in 2058.
  2. Cameroon acceded to the he United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods (1980) (CISG) which comes into force for Cameroon on 1 November 2018.
  3. Cameron acceded to the United Nations Convention on the Use of Electronic Communications in International Contracts (2005) which came into force for Cameroon on 1 May 2018.

Of sales, bills of exchange and arbitration

Picken J today revisited an old chestnut in arbitration law. Suppose you sell goods or services and draw on the buyer for the price (yes, some people still do this), and have a standard arbitration clause referring to “all disputes arising out of or in connection with this Contract”. Does the arbitration clause cover a claim on the bill of exchange, as against one on the underlying contract of sale? Just this happened in Uttam Galva Steels Ltd v Gunvor Singapore Pte Ltd [2018] EWHC 1098 (Comm), where the buyer made a s.67 application challenging an LME arbitration tribunal that had said yes and had then given judgment against it on the bill. In fact the buyer had introduced the point out of time, so the point was a non-starter.  But even without that it would, said Picken J, have failed. On the basis of modern arbitration practice as evidenced in Fiona Trust v Privalov [2007] UKHL 40; [2007] 4 All E.R. 951 parties should not lightly be taken to have agreed to bifurcated dispute resolution according to whether the action was being brought on the bill or on the contract. Dicta in Nova (Jersey) Knit Ltd v Kammgarn Spinnerei GmbH [1977] 1 WLR 713, 731 and the Singapore decision in Rals International Pte Ltd v Cassa di Risparmio di Parma e Piacenza SpA [2016] SGCA 53 failed to convince him otherwise.

On balance it is suggested that his Lordship was right. It is true (as he admitted) that the result is that those who sell under bills of exchange may inadvertently give up the right they would otherwise have to summary judgment on the bill with few if any questions asked under the ‘pay now, sue later’ principle. But summary judgment is equally available under the underlying contract, and the fact that this may be precluded by an arbitration clause never seems to have unduly worried anyone.

If the claim is brought on the bill by an indorsee who is a holder in due course, then presumably the result will be different: the holder here can hardly be bound by any arbitration clause — as indeed was held in Rals International Pte Ltd v Cassa di Risparmio di Parma e Piacenza SpA [2016] SGCA 53, where the claimant was the indorsee of a promissory note. But this need not detain us.

Meanwhile, the sensible reaction for a commercial lawyer is a simple one: say what you want. Where payment is or may be made by a bill of exchange, it is hardly rocket science to draft the arbitration clause to as to embrace “all disputes arising out of or in connection with this Contract, including cases where the claim is brought under a bill of exchange or promissory note”, or (if you prefer) “all disputes arising out of or in connection with this Contract, save for cases where the claim is brought under a bill of exchange, promissory note or similar instrument”. You may do students of commercial law out of a bit of technical learning, but you sure will save your clients a good deal of heartache and very possibly money.

Opening a letter of credit on time. Condition or innominate term?

Is the buyer’s obligation to open a letter of credit by a specified time a condition or an innominate term? The tribunal in London Arbitration 12/18 found that it was an innominate term. The sale contract of 6 September had stipulated that a letter of credit be opened within two banking days from the dated of the contract. On 8 September no letter of credit had been opened and the sellers on 9 September terminated the contract and made arrangements to return the deposit. They claimed that the buyers had repudiated the contract by failing to open a letter of credit on time.

The tribunal held that a contractual requirement for the provision of a letter of credit did not always have to be read as a condition. Although the provision of a letter of credit would frequently be a condition precedent to performing obligations under a contract, for example to load a ship (Kronos Worldwide Ltd v Sempra Oil Trading SARL [2004] 1 Lloyd’s Rep 260), that was not to be equated with a condition of a contract. A term was only to be categorised as a condition if any assumed breach of it would deprive the innocent party of substantially the whole benefit of the contract.

In the present case, where the obligation to provide a letter of credit was related to the contract date and where the first shipment date was three or more weeks later, the tribunal was not able to conclude that the obligation should be treated as a condition rather than as an innominate term.

The breach by the buyers of the innominate term could not be regarded as depriving the sellers of substantially the whole benefit of the contract. Until a letter of credit would have been issued a few days later, it deprived them of security, but the substantial benefit of the contract was the sale and the profit the sellers anticipated making.

Accordingly, it was the sellers who had been in breach by terminating the contract on 9 September.

Demurrage claim against seller. Don’t blame your buyer if you don’t pay freight due under your charter.

 

London Arbitration 2/18 give us an interesting issue on causation arising out of two related contracts, a cfr sale contract, and the charterparty made by the seller. The cfr sale contract required buyers to pay charterparty freight to sellers as soon as possible after signing bills of lading; which they failed to do. The shipowners refused to release the ‘freight prepaid’ bill of lading until freight had been paid. The consequent delay resulted in the seller incurring a liability for demurrage at the discharge port under their charterparty. The tribunal held that the sellers were not entitled to an indemnity from the buyers in respect of their demurrage liability. Despite the provisions of the sale contract, the primary obligation to pay to the owners the charterparty freight remained with the sellers, as charterers of the vessel.  The sellers decided not to pay themselves the freight due to the owners and this broke any chain of causation there might have been between the buyers’ breach and the demurrage incurred by sellers under the charter. Alternatively, the sellers had failed to mitigate the damages to which the buyers’ breach exposed them and thereby incurred a liability for demurrage that could have been otherwise avoided.

Sale of goods — no need to prepare to collect something you know you won’t get

A textbook sale of goods decision today from Carr J in Vitol S.A. v Beta Renowable Group S.A. [2017] EWHC 1734 (Comm), which nevertheless has a few lessons for the rest of us. Beta, a Spanish real estate company that had branched out into the biofuels business, agreed to sell commodity traders Vitol 4,500 tonnes of cooking-oil-derived biodiesel fob Bilbao. Vitol had to have a vessel ready to lift it by midnight Friday 1 July and to nominate the relevant vessel by midnight Monday that week.

Things then went wrong. Communications from Beta culminating on Monday afternoon made it clear there wouldn’t be any biodiesel to lift. Vitol let the nomination time pass without doing anything, said on 7 July that they accepted Beta’s repudiation, and sued for loss of profit (including would-be hedging gains — more anon). Beta declined liability. They argued, with more hope than merit, that Vitol had not accepted their repudiation until much later, and had therefore remained bound to nominate a ship on Monday and take steps for delivery; not having done so, they were (said Beta) disabled from complaining of non-delivery.

Carr J held for Vitol, reasoning thus. First, while one could accept repudiation by mere omission, Vitol had not done so by failure to nominate, since this (non) act had not been unequivocal enough. They had therefore on principle remained bound to take steps to lift the oil. Nevertheless, given that it remained abundantly clear that there was nothing to collect, it would be ridiculous to require them to go to the trouble and expense of making idle preparations to collect it.

It followed that Beta were liable for substantial damages for non-delivery, whereupon a further nice point arose. Spurning traditional value less price as old hat, Vitol sought to claim their lost resale margin, plus in addition an alleged profit they would have made on buying in gasoil futures they had sold in order to hedge the transaction. Carr J was having none of it: there was no reason to allow actual resale profits in an ordinary commodity contract, and the futures were essentially a speculation on Vitol’s own account. So Vitol had to be content with market value damages.

Three points for commodity lawyers and others.

(1) It’s good to have confirmation that to enforce a contract you have generally to show merely that you would have been ready willing and able to satisfy any conditions on your right to performance, but for the other side’s repudiation: you don’t have actually to do an entirely futile act where that would serve no purpose.

(2) Damages: courts remain wary in straightforward commodity cases of departing from the time-honoured  value test in ss.50-51 of the Sale of Goods Act.

(3) Vitol will have been kicking themselves for not making it clear, when not nominating a ship, that they were specifically accepting Beta’s repudiation. One email, of negligible cost, would very likely have saved the cost of having the whole matter taken to the High Court. Solicitors for buyers and sellers, verb. sap.