The LOGIC of freedom of contract

A ringing vindication of freedom of contract, and of grown-up contract interpretation, from the English Court of Appeal today in Transocean v Providence.

Transocean provided a drilling rig to Providence to explore for oil off the shores of the Emerald Isle. The contract was a bespoke version of the LOGIC offshore construction, etc contract.  Problems arose when operations had to stop for 4 weeks owing to problems with Transocean’s rig, which were found to be due to Transocean’s breach of contract. Providence sued for “spread costs” (accountant-speak for capital equipment left idle) during that time. Transocean countered with a reference to Clause 20, part of a complex and comprehensive knock-for-knock arrangement:

“20. CONSEQUENTIAL LOSS. For the purposes of this Clause 20 the expression “Consequential Loss” shall mean:

(i) any indirect or consequential loss or damages under English law, and/or

(ii) to the extent not covered by (i) above, loss or deferment of production, loss of product, loss of use (including, without limitation, loss of use or the cost of use of property, equipment, materials and services including without limitation, those provided by contractors or subcontractors of every tier or by third parties), loss of business and business interruption, loss of revenue (which for the avoidance of doubt shall not include payments due to CONTRACTOR by way of remuneration under this CONTRACT), loss of profit or anticipated profit, loss and/or deferral of drilling rights and/or loss, restriction or forfeiture of licence, concession or field interests whether or not such losses were foreseeable at the time of entering into the CONTRACT and, in respect of paragraph (ii) only, whether the same are direct or indirect. The expression “Consequential Loss” shall not include CONTRACTOR’S losses arising in connection with (1) failure by COMPANY to provide the letter of credit as required by Clause 3.13 of Section III or resulting termination of this CONTRACT or (2) any termination of this CONTRACT by reason of COMPANY’S repudiatory breach.

Subject to and without affecting the provisions of this CONTRACT regarding (a) the payment rights and obligations of the parties or (b) the risk of loss, or (c) release and indemnity rights and obligations of the parties but notwithstanding any other provision of the CONTRACT to the contrary the COMPANY shall save, indemnify, defend and hold harmless the CONTRACTOR GROUP from the COMPANY GROUP’S own consequential loss and the CONTRACTOR shall save, indemnify, defend and hold harmless the COMPANY GROUP from the CONTRACTOR GROUP’S own consequential loss.”

This seemed comprehensive enough, but Providence still thought it worth arguing the toss. They argued that the clause only covered claims for replacement costs; that it should be aggressively construed contra proferentem; that it was apt to reduce Transocean’s obligations to nil; and that as such the courts should simply disregard it (!).

The judge at first instance accepted some of these arguments and rejected Transocean’s defence. Moore-Bick LJ, who gave the only judgment in the CA, was having none of it. Read in any sensible way the clause covered the loss; contra proferentem was inappropriate in a case of this sort between sophisticated grown-up contractors; and the freedom of parties in situations like this to make unreasonable agreements needed to be preserved.

This is, if one may say so, the sort of entirely well-reasoned and sound decision which gives us continuing confidence in English law and jurisdiction as the best system to adopt if  businessmen want to know where they stand.

See Transocean Drilling v Providence Resources [2016] EWCA Civ 372, available on BAILII.

Sale of goods — damages where no market

A straightforward sale of goods case in the CA on damages for breach of the duty to deliver where there’s no available market. Only semi-commercial, but still commercially relevant.

Dealers agree to sell a super-rare new Porsche limited edition to a buyer, then sell their allocation —  one car — to someone else (and subsequently lie about it). Apparently their objection is that the buyer might, horror of horrors, resell the car once he’s bought it: something which they rather pompously say is “against their policy”. Buyer recovers the difference between what he’d have paid under the spec he wanted (£135K) and what he’d have had to pay for a similar car elsewhere (£170K). The court confirms that s.51 SGA enacts Hadley v Baxendale in the specialised context of sale of goods. The fact that the only rough equivalent available elsewhere was just that — a very rough equivalent — is beside the point. The dealers go down for £35K plus costs. See Hughes v Pendragon Sabre Ltd (t/a Porsche Centre Bolton) [2016] EWCA Civ 18 (on BAILII).

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