Two virtually simultaneous decisions, issued by two different lower Courts, reached opposite conclusions (Court of Catania, decision No. 1020 of 13 March 2020, Italian text available here; and Court of Milan, decision No. 2091 of 11 March 2020, Italian text available here). The legal grounds of both these decisions are indicated under Article 118, para. 1, of the Implementing Provisions of Italian Code of Civil Procedure. In other words, they merely refer to judicial precedents.
Separability presumption is universally applied, as the relevant doctrine spread all over the world during the first half of XX century.
In the words of Italian lawmakers, “The validity of the arbitration clause must be evaluated independently of the underlying contract” (Article 808, para. 2, of the Italian Code of Civil Procedure).
The arbitration clause, in Italian jurisdiction as well as in a number of other jurisdictions, does not constitute an ancillary clause of the underlying contract. On the contrary, it constitutes a separate contract with procedural effects. This principle is usually referred to as separability doctrine.
Under Italian law, this doctrine, based on Article 808 of the Italian Code of Civil Procedure (whereby “The validity of the arbitration clause must be evaluated independently of the underlying contract“), is only derogated in bankruptcy matters (under Article 83-bis of Italian bankruptcy law: I have examined the issue in this post).
This doctrine must also be taken into account if an agreement to agree (which is valid and enforceable under Italian law, and it is quite common in construction and conveyancing) is entered into, containing an arbitration clause, and the subsequent agreement does not contain the arbitration clause. I have already examined this topic a few years ago (in this post). Nonetheless, in the light of its relevance, also from a practical point of view, I consider that it is appropriate to examine it again. The opportunity to do so is offered by a recent decision issued by the Court of Appeal of Brescia (decision No. 1474 of 10 October 2019, Italian text available here).
Italian Courts set forth peculiar rules concerning the assignment of the arbitration agreement in case of assignment of credit. In this respect, a recent decision issued by the Court of first instance of Milan (Court of first instance of Milan, VII Civil Chamber, decision no. 8379 of 5 July 2016, Italian text available here) is worth a mention.
A recent decision of the Court of first instance Naples (decision no. 4874 of 19 April 2016, Italian text available here) follows the (outdated) line of cases, according to which two different types of corporate arbitration would be possible: on the one hand, corporate arbitration pursuant to article 34(2) of Legislative Decree 5/2003 (which states that “the arbitration clause shall specify the number of the arbitrators and how to appoint them. In any case, the arbitrators shall be appointed by a third party unrelated to the company; otherwise, the clause shall be deemed as null and void (…)”); and on the other hand, common arbitration pursuant to Article 808 of Italian Code of Civil Procedure. This is the so-called “twin-track”, which has already been discussed in this post.
An arbitration clause stipulates that all the disputes arising out of the agreement may be referred to an Arbitral Tribunal. Is that an optional arbitration, in the sense that the claimant may choose between the Court and the Arbitral Tribunal? Does the jurisdiction exclusively rest with the Arbitral Tribunal? Or is it a void or ineffective arbitration clause?
I already talked about this issue in this article, when analysing an order rendered by the Court of first instance of Milan. Recent rulings of the I Civil Chamber of the Court of Appeal of Bologna (decision no. 1884 of 12 November 2015, Italian text available here) and the VI Civil Chamber of the Supreme Court (decision no. 22039 of 28 October 2015, Italian text available here) have shed light on this issue again.
Decision no. 22008 of 28 October 2015 of the I Civil Chamber of the Supreme Court (Italian text available here) followed the line of cases opposing the so-called “twin-track approach” to corporate arbitration. This judgment ruled that the only arbitration clause that may be stipulated in the Articles of association of an Italian unlisted company is the one pursuant to Article 34 of Legislative Decree no. 5 of 17 January 2003.
It is quite usual that, when inserting an arbitration clause in an agreement, a party would like to preserve its right to file with the Court a request for a payment order (which is an ex parte order). The purpose would be to attain a temporarily enforceable payment order, since it would be an effective and fast solution to protect its rights.
Nonetheless, the outcomes of such choice could be different from those expected. The VI Civil Chamber of the Supreme Court, in its order no. 21666 of 23 October 2015 (Italian text available here), analysed the possible consequences.
A recent judgment of the Supreme Court (decision no. 18707 of 22 September 2015, Italian text available here) dealt with a very peculiar case. A party objected that an arbitration clause was unenforceable, since it included an additional preposition (more precisely the preposition “di”, which in Italian means “of”).
In this case, the Supreme Court, as well as the Court of first instance, avoided a formalistic excess. The Court did not repeat the old case, referred to by Gaius, in which a party lost the case due to a lexical mistake.
The Court of first instance of Rome (decision no. 19215 of 28 September 2015, Italian text available here) ruled in a complex case concerning the relationship between a limited liability company and its former director. First of all, the company sued the former director before the Court, claiming his liability. In a second case (the case of the decision at hand), the former director requested the Court to issue a payment order against the company, in order to obtain the amounts allegedly owed to him. The parties did not take into account the arbitration clause stipulated in Article 26 of the Articles of association. This provision notes that “all controversies arising among the quotaholders or among the quotaholders and the company, the directors, liquidators and statutory auditors shall be settled by a sole arbitrator appointed by the President of the Certified Public Accountants Register of the place where the company has its registered office (….).” In the judicial proceedings commenced by the company, the former director objected that the Court did not have jurisdiction, due to the above mentioned arbitration clause. On its turn, the company raised this objection when challenging the payment order issued in favour of the former director.
Did the parties waive their right to arbitrate, by initiating Court proceedings?