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19 November 2013
In Nomura International Plc v Banca Monte Dei Paschi Di Siena SpA(1) the court's discretion to stay proceedings under Article 28(1) of the EU Brussels Regulation (44/2001) was triggered by the existence of prior proceedings in another EU member state, which the court concluded was a 'related action' under Article 28(3). However, the court refused to exercise its discretion to stay the proceedings, holding that the existence of an exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of the English court was a "very significant factor against the grant of a stay".
On March 1 2013 the applicant, Banca Monte Dei Paschi Di Siena SpA (BMPS) – Italy's and the world's oldest bank – brought Italian proceedings against members of its former senior management for acting in conflict of interest and in breach of their duties. The proceedings related to a sophisticated restructuring scheme involving a number of related agreements with respondent bank Nomura International Plc, including an International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA) master agreement. BMPS claimed that the restructuring had been implemented in order to conceal losses arising from a transaction that took place in late 2005 which subjected BMPS to significant costs and risks, while lacking any economic rationale. BMPS also advanced claims against Nomura in tort on the basis that Nomura had played a key role in the restructuring and had contributed to the breach of duties.
Later the same day, Nomura issued proceedings against BMPS in England seeking, in particular, declaratory relief that the agreements – each of which was governed by English law and contained either an exclusive or non-exclusive English jurisdiction clause – were valid and binding on BMPS.
BMPS applied to stay the English proceedings pursuant to Article 28(1) of the Brussels Regulation on the basis that they were 'related' to the Italian proceedings and that the Italian court was first seized.
Article 28 provides as follows:
"1. Where related actions are pending in the courts of different Member States, any court other than the court first seised may stay its proceedings…
3. For the purposes of this Article, actions are deemed to be related where they are so closely connected that it is expedient to hear and determine them together to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgments resulting from separate proceedings."
Nomura claimed that the Italian proceedings were not a 'related action' under Article 28(3), relying on two main points:
The court rejected the 'threshold' point, holding that the wording of Article 28(3) focused on the question of what in principle was 'expedient', which the court interpreted as meaning what was genuinely desirable – not what was capable or possible, as contended by Nomura. The court concluded that an exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of the court second seized did not of itself mean that the proceedings commenced in that court might not be related to proceedings in another court for the purposes of Article 28(3).
The court also rejected the 'so closely connected' point. In reaching this conclusion, the court applied Sarrio SA v Kuwait Investment Authority,(2) which advocated a "broad commonsense approach". The court held that the underlying factual issues of the case would give rise to a substantial degree of connection.
The court concluded that the Italian proceedings constituted a related action, and that it would be expedient, within the meaning of Article 28(3), to hear the two actions together to avoid the risk of inconsistent judgments. Accordingly, the court had discretion under Article 28(1) to determine whether the proceedings should be stayed.
In deciding whether to exercise its discretion in favour of a stay, the court was mindful of the relevant factors that had been identified in Owens Bank ltd v Bracco:(3)
In respect of these factors, the court held as follows:
The court considered that, on balance, the above factors weighed against the grant of a stay.
Noting that these factors were non-exhaustive, the court also considered the relevance of the exclusive jurisdiction clause in the ISDA master agreement to its exercise of discretion. This contractually entitled Nomura to bring proceedings in England. The court held that this was a significant factor against the grant of a stay, and that so far as possible, it should give effect to the parties' bargain. It therefore concluded that in respect of Nomura's claims under the ISDA master agreement, it would allow the proceedings to continue.
Regarding the other agreements, some of which contained non-exclusive jurisdiction clauses, the court held that the decision to allow the proceedings to continue in respect of the ISDA master agreement was a significant factor against a stay of the proceedings in relation to those agreements. It therefore refused BMPS's application and held that the English court should determine all issues concerning the validity of the agreements, and that it would be inexpedient to adopt any other course.
This case illustrates that the existence of an exclusive jurisdiction clause can prove decisive in persuading the court to allow proceedings to continue in the English courts, despite a pre-existing related action in another EU member state.
The court also made reference to the fact that there had been some debate as to what the position might be if this application were to be determined under the revised Brussels Regulation regime (EU Regulation 1215/2012), which will come into force on January 10 2015. Given the revised regime's limited assistance in determining the present case, the judge did not express a view on what that position would have been. Litigators should closely monitor any changes in this area of law once the new regulation comes into force.
For further information on this topic please contact Geraldine Elliott or Chris Whitehouse at RPC by telephone (+44 20 3060 6000), fax (+44 20 3060 7000) or email (email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org). The RPC website can be accessed at www.rpc.co.uk.
(1)  EWHC 3187 (Comm).
(2)  AC 32.
(3) (Case C-129/92)  QB 509.
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