Arbitration and tort claims

Italian Arbitration Law, as amended in 2006, expressly provides for the parties to enter into an arbitration clause concerning their possible tort disputes.  Indeed, Article 808(b) of Italian Code of Civil Procedure, as enacted by 2006 reform, sets forth that “The parties may establish, in a specific agreement, that future disputes relating to one or more specific non-contractual relations be decided by arbitrators (…).

There are only a few reported cases concerning Article 808(b) of Italian Code of Civil Procedure, and therefore it appears that that tool is rarely used.  Nonetheless, it could be very helpful: for instance, in the case of related actions, it could prevent the doctrine of “parallel paths” from applying.

A recent decision of the Italian Supreme Court (Supreme Court, VI Civil Chamber, decision no. 20673 of 13 October 2016, Italian text available here) deals with that matter. As far as I know, it is the first decision issued by the Italian Supreme Court concerning the construction of Article 808(b) of Italian Code of Civil Procedure.

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Preliminary agreement and arbitration clause

An arbitration clause stipulated in the preliminary agreement (that is, a kind of agreement to agree, which is enforceable under Italian law) was not included in the final agreement. In any case, the disputes concerning the later have to be referred to the Arbitral Tribunal. This was the ruling of the Court of Appeal of Venice (decision no. 2361 of 12 October 2015 of the I Civil Chamber of the Appeals Court of Venice, Italian text available here).

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Construction of the arbitration clause contained in the Articles of association

In its decision no. 10610 of 22 September 2015, the Court of first instance of Milan declared its lack of jurisdiction on the challenge of a resolution of a cooperative company. The Court used a broad construction of the arbitration clause contained in the company’s Articles of association. The Italian full text of the decision is available here.

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Arbitration and shareholders’ loan

If an arbitration clause is stipulated in the company’s Articles of association, disputes between a former shareholder and the company, concerning the repayment of a shareholders’ loan, shall be referred to an Arbitral Tribunal. This is, in a nutshell, the rationale of decision no. 18316 of 17 September 2015 of the Third Civil Chamber of the Court of first instance of Rome (the Italian full text is available here).

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Construction of arbitration clause

The wording of the arbitration clause should be carefully selected, as it constitutes the basis of the jurisdiction of the Arbitral Tribunal.  A possible wrong wording will not always be emended, once the dispute has arisen.

Nevertheless, it is commonplace that due attention is not devoted to this clause, either because it is inserted at the last minute in an agreement (known as the “midnight clause” effect), or because the agreement is reached after long negotiation on its commercial terms, underestimating the risk of a possible dispute.

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