The US District Court for the District of Columbia recently lifted a stay of proceedings to confirm an award issued by an ad hoc tribunal in Paris under the Energy Charter Treaty. The district court noted that the French Court of Cassation had overturned a decision of the Paris Court of Appeal setting aside the award. This article revisits the relevant facts and issues that gave rise to the setting aside of the award in France, and the subsequent reversal at the highest instance.
Consistent with France's reputation as a pro-arbitration jurisdiction, the French civil courts' review of arbitral awards on grounds of public policy is traditionally limited in terms of both standard and content. However, in recent years, the scope of the courts' review in this regard has been tested in certain Paris Court of Appeal decisions which reviewed the underlying evidence rather than the arbitral tribunal's own determinations in the relevant award.
Parties' ability to choose their arbitrators remains one of the most frequently mentioned advantages of arbitration over litigation. However, this freedom makes sense only if it preserves the overarching duties of arbitrators and judges alike – that is, the duty to be and remain independent and impartial from the parties.
The Paris Court of Appeal recently set aside an award on the grounds of a violation of the principle of equality of arms. The court had to rule on the Iraq war's impact on due process in arbitral proceedings between the Republic of Iraq and two German companies. This decision comes as a reminder that arbitration is a jurisdictional process where parties and arbitrators, while enjoying considerable freedom and flexibility, should be mindful of due process and fair trial guarantees.
The French courts recently supported the rigorous application of the principle of procedural estoppel and reiterated their commitment to the enforcement of agreements that govern arbitral proceedings. The principle prevents parties from relying on alleged irregularities that affect arbitration proceedings before the French courts if the requesting party has not initially raised them before the arbitral tribunal.
In 2016 French contract law was restructured to render it more predictable and commercially attractive. The reform extended to the currency limitation rule, which was considered both restrictive and unclear. A recently passed implementing law is expected to provide greater flexibility for aviation transactions, as the currency limitations no longer apply to transactions between professionals where payment in a foreign currency is common practice in the relevant industry.
While developing its French network, Ryanair received support from various regional airports, including the Mixed Syndicate of Charente Airports (SMAC). The European Commission ultimately found this financial support to be illegal and, as a result, Ryanair had to repay the illicit subsidy to the SMAC. When Ryanair failed to make the payment in full, the SMAC requested the Bordeaux court to order the arrest of a Ryanair aircraft on its arrival at Bordeaux-Merignac Airport.
Bird strikes are not uncommon in civil aviation: every year there are approximately 5,000 to 6,000 incidents costing $1.2 billion worldwide. But this begs the question of who should be held responsible for bird strikes where an airport subcontracts the prevention of bird risk to a third party. The Supreme Court for Administrative Law recently had to decide which party was responsible for this collision, as previous case law on the matter was unclear.
The Commercial Division of the Supreme Court has clarified how an assignment of business receivables, known as a 'Dailly assignment', operates. Through this decision, the Supreme Court has reinforced the effectiveness of the Dailly assignment mechanism by giving full effect to the assigned debtor's actual knowledge of the assignment and by giving no effect to contractual provisions that restrict assignment.
The new law on the duty of vigilance for parent companies and principal contractors aims to improve the accountability of multinational companies, prevent serious incidents in France and abroad and allow parties to obtain compensation for losses which they suffer as a consequence of non-compliance. To achieve these aims, the law requires companies to draft an awareness plan and implement a monitoring and whistleblowing system. It also introduces penalties for non-compliance.
The Sapin II Law aims to support transparency, modernise business activity and combat corruption. It introduces measures to regulate executive pay in listed companies, simplify company law and modernise bond issues. Among other things, it has simplified the procedure for contributions of goodwill, abolished the prior authorisation requirement for certain transactions and simplified the procedure for issuing bonds.
The concept of de facto management makes it possible to hold a parent company liable for its subsidiary by requiring that it make up any shortfall in its assets if the subsidiary is insolvent. This ultimately leads to a piercing of the corporate veil. A recent Supreme Court ruling points to a shift in case law towards a more restrictive interpretation of de facto management, thereby reinforcing the corporate veil.
A recent landmark European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling calls into question the type of liability incurred when an established commercial relationship is suddenly terminated. According to the ECJ, the liability is contractual, whereas for the French Supreme Court, tortious liability arises. The practical consequences of this ruling are significant in that EU law on jurisdiction differs substantially, depending on whether the liability in question is tortious or contractual.
The rules and procedures for protecting the interests of French companies when it comes to foreign investments have been amended by Decree 2018/1057, which came into effect on 1 January 2019. The new decree has extended the control of foreign investments to new sectors and enabled targets to take an active part in the process by giving them the right to directly ask the Ministry of Economy and Finance whether the foreseen investment is subject to a prior authorisation.
In the context of the acquisition of group companies, the parties will carefully select what to insert in the bylaws of the company, whereas in separate private agreements, which are confidential, the parties may include further, more detailed information. If the advantage of such private agreements is their confidentiality, the drawback is their lack of enforceability against third parties. The Supreme Court recently held that a sale made in violation of a shareholders' agreement was void by application of the bylaws.
Over the past 10 years, the French M&A market has seen the rise of a powerful new player: the French state. A newly introduced bill would expand the state's ability to oppose the sale or transfer of assets by certain strategic companies in which it holds shares. The changes, which are of particular interest to the M&A community, are part of an omnibus reform of French corporations law known as the Action Plan for Business Growth and Transformation.
A recent Supreme Court decision has confirmed previous case law and explicitly recalled the importance that should be given to the drafting of provisions governing the duration of shareholders' agreements. The court highlighted the fact that shareholders' agreements concluded for as long as the signatories remain shareholders are considered concluded for an indefinite period and may be terminated by any party thereto at any time.
Ordinance 2017-1674 of December 8 2017 introduced into French law the legal framework for the use of a blockchain in order to record the ownership and transfer of unlisted securities. This groundbreaking reform is an essential step towards the modernisation of the existing rules governing the transfer of unlisted securities. Blockchain technology will considerably facilitate and secure the transfer of securities and will undoubtedly have an impact on private M&A deals.
In recent years, the Court of Cassation and the courts of appeal have ruled in several cases relating to inappropriate or offensive Facebook comments made by employees against their colleagues, managers or employers. However, an analysis of the rulings shows that the courts remain hesitant to establish a legal framework to govern the various, fast-changing facets of this particular social network.
The Modernisation of the Labour Market Act recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. The act introduced a legal procedure for terminating employment contracts by mutual agreement that has proven successful over time. No fewer than 36,600 mutual termination agreements were signed in May 2018 alone, an increase of more than 5.5% compared to the previous month. However, despite their relative simplicity and flexibility, mutual termination agreements are far from perfect.
The new majority in Parliament has announced, and in some cases already enacted, many changes. Among them, those dealing with employees' representatives are important, as they reshape a significant part of the Labour Code. While these changes are not expected to radically alter industrial relations in the workplace immediately, some of the major modifications and their general characteristics are worth highlighting.
Since the Harvey Weinstein case, French society has been shaken by a social media movement in which #balancetonporc ("denounce your pig") has prompted a frenzy of reactions, from women revealing incidents that they had previously kept to themselves to false accusations and endless debate regarding what is considered as offensive. The recent spotlight on this issue provides an opportunity to describe the system in place for cases of sexual harassment in the workplace.
Since 2016 the government has modified the law on economic dismissal on several points. Under French labour law, any economic dismissal must be justified by actual and serious grounds. Among other recent changes, the introduction of the El Khomri Law has clarified the definition of 'economic motivation' to take into account the Court of Cassation's case law and added two new reasons to the list of economic grounds under the Labour Code.