Case Law: Case C-106/95. Mainschiffahrts-Genossenschaft eG (MSG) v. Les GravièRes RhèNanes SARL, (Eur. Ct. J. February 20, 1997) (Not yet Reported)

3 Colum. J. Eur. L. 465 (1997)

Patrick Wautelet. Assistant, Center for International and Foreign Law, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven.

Article 17 of the Brussels Convention’ gives parties the ability to agree on the court that will have jurisdiction to settle any disputes that may arise out of their contractual relationship. Such agreements can be dangerous because prorogation of jurisdiction may be achieved by surprise, where a jurisdiction clause is not noticed by one of the parties. In the present case, the European Court of Justice had to decide under what conditions a jurisdiction clause appearing in a letter of confirmation (Kaufmännisches Bestätigungsschreiben) can be effective.

Facts and Procedures

Mainschiffahrts-Genossenschaft eG (MSG), a transport cooperative based in Germany had chartered one of its vessels to Gravi~res Rhrnanes, a French company. The time charter was concluded orally. The vessel operated a shuttle service on the Rhine. With some exceptions, it sailed mainly in France. According to MSG, the handling equipment used by the time charterer to unload the cargo damaged the vessel. MSG brought an action before the Schiffahrtssgericht (Maritime Court) of Würzburg, Germany, against Gravières Rhénanes, seeking damages. MSG maintained that this court had jurisdiction because, after the completion of the negotiations, it had sentGravières Rhénanes a letter of confirmation designating Wdrzburg as the place of performance and the Wiirzburg courts as having jurisdiction. The same statements appeared on MSG’s invoices. Neither the letter of confirmation nor the invoices were contested by the defendant. The Schiffahrtsgericht held it had jurisdiction. This decision  was reversed on appeal. MSG sought a ruling from the Bundesgerichtshof (Supreme Civil Court of Germany) on the jurisdiction issue. The Bundesgerichtshof sought guidance from the European Court of Justice concerning the validity of a jurisdiction clause under the Brussels Convention.