English High Court Upholds Primacy of Exclusive Jurisdiction and Arbitration Agreements in PT Services Malta Limited v Caliplay Case

Citation: [2023] EWHC 3060 (Comm)
Judgment on

Introduction

In the recent case of PT Services Malta Limited (“PTSM”) v Tecnologia En Entretenimiento Caliplay S De Rl De Cv (“Caliplay”) and others, the English High Court was tasked with adjudicating on a series of applications for interim injunctive relief relating to commercial agreements governing online gaming activities. The case zeroes in on the interplay between English and Mexican law, the interpretation of arbitration agreements, anti-suit injunctions, and the impact of interim foreign court measures on English proceedings.

Key Facts

The dispute arose from a Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”), a Framework Agreement (“FWA”), and a Software License and Services Agreement (“SLS”) between PTSM, Caliplay, and related entities. These agreements provided the framework for PTSM’s provision of online gaming services to Caliplay. Contention arose when Caliplay sought to terminate part of the fee arrangement and PTSM challenged this move in the English courts. In response, Caliplay initiated proceedings in Mexico, challenging the agreements’ effectiveness under Mexican law and obtaining interim measures which PTSM sought to counter through English court injunctions.

Breach of Exclusive Jurisdiction Agreement

The English court upheld the principle that an exclusive jurisdiction clause must be respected, and subsequent litigation elsewhere constitutes a breach. The SLS’s English exclusive jurisdiction clause meant that the English courts were the correct forum for disputes concerning the SLS.

Scope of Arbitration Agreements Under the Arbitration Act 1996

The court addressed the extent of arbitration agreements under the ICC Rules and English law. Section 30 of the Arbitration Act enables an arbitral tribunal to rule on its own jurisdiction, including the validity of the contract containing the arbitration clause. The ICC Rules similarly allowed the tribunal to decide on jurisdiction and the existence of the underlying contract.

Anti-Suit Injunctions

Two statutory frameworks for anti-suit injunctions were considered: Section 37 of the Senior Courts Act 1981 and Section 44 of the Arbitration Act 1996. The case highlighted that Section 37 applies generally to injunctions against foreign litigation, while Section 44 is specific to injunctions in support of arbitration. One distinction is the requirement under Section 44 that the arbitral tribunal or institution is unable to act effectively – a condition not expressly required under Section 37.

Vexatious and Oppressive Litigation

The court scrutinized the concept of vexatious and oppressive conduct in litigation, particularly when a party seeking relief through foreign courts could be perceived as circumventing contractual agreements that designate English arbitration as the proper dispute resolution mechanism.

Outcomes

The court granted interim injunctive relief to PTSM against Caliplay and Viena, restraining them from pursuing Mexican court proceedings related to the SLS and FWA. The court required Caliplay to terminate its Mexican litigation in respect to the SLS, and both parties were constrained from acting on any interim measures issued by Mexican courts conflicting with the English court’s ruling.

The court declined to grant a final injunction requiring Caliplay to make immediate payment to PTSM of sums held in a trust account in Mexico, determining this issue should be considered at trial. Furthermore, no Order was made to restrain the acting upon measures from the Mexican Court Order concerning the FWA’s substantive clauses, as this fell within the remit of Section 44 of the Arbitration Act 1996.

Viena ultimately received an Order to operate as if the suspension of the 63rd Civil Court Order by the Mexican Federal Court did not exist. The court refrained from ordering Viena to discontinue its proceedings in Mexico, hinging on the undertaking provided by Viena and the expectation of the full arbitration tribunal’s imminent constitution.

Conclusion

The case of PT Services Malta Limited v Tecnologia En Entretenimiento Caliplay S De Rl De Cv and others reaffirms the primacy of English court orders and the need for parties to honor contractual dispute resolution mechanisms, especially exclusive jurisdiction and arbitration clauses. It underscores the court’s careful consideration of both urgency and effective action by arbitral tribunals when granting anti-suit injunctions and its predominant focus on ensuring fair proceedings without stepping into the domain of foreign courts unless necessary. The judgment also serves as a caution against litigious conduct that might be deemed vexatious or oppressive, highlighting the delicate balance courts must maintain in international disputes involving multiple jurisdictions and legal frameworks.

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