Chloro Controls (I) P. Ltd.  V/s Severn Trent Water Purification Inc. & Ors.

A non-signatory party could be subjected to arbitration provided these transactions were with group of companies and there was a clear intention of the parties to bind both, the signatory as well as the non signatory parties.

Case Name:Chloro Controls (I) P. Ltd.  Versus Severn Trent Water Purification Inc. & Ors.
Case Number:Civil Appeal Nos. 7135-7136 Of 2012
Bench:S.H.Kapadia, CJI A.K.Patnaik, J. Swatanter Kumar, J.
Decided On:September 28, 2012
Relevant Act/Sections:The Arbitration And Conciliation Act, 1996
    • The facts involved a dispute between an Indian and foreign party. There was a network of several inter-linked agreements, each dealing with a different aspect of the commercial relationship between the parties. The Shareholders Agreement was the principal or parent agreement. The Shareholders Agreement had an arbitration clause, which provided for London as the seat of arbitration and English law as the governing law. The other agreements included an International Distributor Agreement (jurisdiction of court in Pennsylvania), Managing Director’s Agreement (no arbitration clause), Financial and Technical Know-how License (ICC arbitration London), Export Sales Agreement (AAA arbitration in Pennsylvania), Trademark Registered User License Agreement (No arbitration clause). Not all these agreements had the same parties, but were part of a composite transaction, all stemming from the Shareholders Agreement or the mother agreement.
    • Chloro Controls (India) Private Ltd., the appellant, filed a suit on the original side of the High Court of Bombay being Suit No.233 of 2004, for declaration that the joint venture agreements and supplementary collaboration agreement entered into between some of the parties are valid, subsisting and binding. It also sought a direction that the scope of business of the joint venture company, Respondent No. 5, set up under the said agreements includes the manufacture, sale, distribution and service of the entire range of chlorination equipments including the electro-chlorination equipment and claimed certain other reliefs as well, against the defendants in that suit.
    • The said parties took out two notices of motion, being Notice of Motion No.553 of 2004 prior to and Notice of Motion No.2382 of 2004 subsequent to the amendment of the plaint. In these notices of motion, the principal question that fell for consideration of the learned Single Judge of the High Court was whether the joint venture agreements between the parties related only to gas chlorination equipment or whether they included electro-chlorination equipment as well. The applicant had prayed for an order of restraint, preventing Respondent Nos. 1 and 2, the foreign collaborators, from acting upon their notice dated 23rd January, 2004, indicating termination of the joint venture agreements and the supplementary collaboration agreement.
    • A further prayer was made for grant of injunction against committing breach of contract by directly or indirectly dealing with any person other than the Respondent No.5, in any manner whatsoever, for the manufacture, sale, distribution or services of the chlorination equipment, machinery parts, accessories and related equipments including electro-chlorination equipment, in India and other countries covered by the agreement. The defendants in that suit had taken out another Notice of Motion No.778 of 2004, under Section 8 read with Section 5 of the1996 claiming that arbitration clauses in some of the agreements governed all the joint venture agreements and, therefore, the suit should be referred to an appropriate arbitral tribunal for final disposal and until a final award was made by an arbitral tribunal, the proceedings in the suit should be stayed.
    • The learned Single Judge, vide order dated 28th December, 2004, allowed Notice of Motion No.553 of 2004 and consequently disposed of Notice of Motion No.2382 of 2004 as not surviving. Against this order, an appeal was preferred, which came to be registered as Appeal No.24 of 2005 and vide a detailed judgment dated 28th July, 2011, a Division Bench of the High Court of Bombay set aside the order of the learned Single Judge and dismissed both the notices of motion taken out by the plaintiff in the suit.
    • Notice of Motion No.778 of 2004 was dismissed by another learned Single Judge of the High Court of Bombay, declining the reference of the suit to an arbitral tribunal vide order dated 8th April, 2004. This order was again assailed in appeal by the defendants in the suit and another Division Bench of the Bombay High Court, vide its judgment dated 4th March, 2010, allowed the Notice of Motion No.778 of 2004 and made reference to arbitration under Section 45 of the 1996 Act.
    • The judgments of the Division Benches, dated 4th March, 2010 and 28th July, 2011, respectively, have been assailed by the respective parties before this Court in the present Special Leave Petitions, being SLP(C) No.8950/2010 and SLP(C) No.26514-15/2011, respectively. Thus, both these appeals shall be disposed of by this common judgment.
    • What is the ambit and scope of Section 45 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996?
    • Whether the principles enunciated in the case of Sukanya Holdings Pvt. Ltd. v. Jayesh H. Pandya [(2003) 5 SCC 531],is the correct exposition of law?
    • Whether in a case where multiple agreements are signed between different parties and where some contain an arbitration clause and others don’t and further the parties are not identically common in proceedings before the Court (in a suit) and the arbitration agreement, a reference of disputes as a whole or in part can be made to the arbitral tribunal, more particularly, where the parties to an action are claiming under or through a party to the arbitration agreement?
    • The court opined that The language of Section 45 read with Schedule I of the 1996 Act is worded in favour of making a reference to arbitration when a party or any person claiming through or under him approaches the Court and the Court is satisfied that the agreement is valid, enforceable and operative. Because of the legislative intent, the mandate and purpose of the provisions of Section 45 being in favour of arbitration, the relevant provisions would have to be construed liberally to achieve that object.
    • Language of Section 45 is at a substantial variance to the language of Section 8 in this regard. In Section 45, the expression ‘any person’ clearly refers to the legislative intent of enlarging the scope of the words beyond ‘the parties’ who are signatory to the arbitration agreement. Of course, such applicant should claim through or under the signatory party. Once this link is established, then the Court shall refer them to arbitration. The use of the word ‘shall’ would have to be given its proper meaning and cannot be equated with the word ‘may’, as liberally understood in its common parlance. The expression ‘shall’ in the language of the Section 45 is intended to require the Court to necessarily make a reference to arbitration, if the conditions of this provision are satisfied.
    • Normally, arbitration takes place between the persons who have, from the outset, been parties to both the arbitration agreement as well as the substantive contract underlining that agreement. But, it does occasionally happen that the claim is made against or by someone who is not originally named as a party. Arbitration, thus, could be possible between a signatory to an arbitration agreement and a third party. Of course, heavy onus lies on that party to show that, in fact and in law, it is claiming ‘through’ or ‘under’ the signatory party as contemplated under Section 45 of the 1996 Act.
    • Court referred that though the scope of an arbitration agreement is limited to the parties who entered into it and those claiming under or through them, the Courts under the English Law have, in certain cases, also applied the “Group of Companies Doctrine”.
    • This evolves the principle that a non-signatory party could be subjected to arbitration provided these transactions were with group of companies and there was a clear intention of the parties to bind both, the signatory as well as the non signatory parties. In other words, ‘intention of the parties’ is a very significant feature which must be established before the scope of arbitration can be said to include the signatory as well as the non-signatory parties.
    • A non-signatory or third party could be subjected to arbitration without their prior consent, but this would only be in exceptional cases. The Court will examine these exceptions from the touchstone of direct relationship to the party signatory to the arbitration agreement, direct commonality of the subject matter and the agreement between the parties being a composite transaction. The transaction should be of a composite nature where performance of mother agreement may not be feasible without aid, execution and performance of the supplementary or ancillary agreements, for achieving the common object and collectively having bearing on the dispute. Besides all this, the Court would have to examine whether a composite reference of such parties would serve the ends of justice. Once this exercise is completed and the Court answers the same in the affirmative, the reference of even non-signatory parties would fall within the exception afore-discussed.
    • In a case like the present one, where origin and end of all is with the Mother or the Principal Agreement, the fact that a party was non-signatory to one or other agreement may not be of much significance. The performance of any one of such agreements may be quite irrelevant without the performance and fulfillment of the Principal or the Mother Agreement. Besides designing the corporate management to successfully complete the joint ventures, where the parties execute different agreements but all with one primary object in mind, the Court would normally hold the parties to the bargain of arbitration and not encourage its avoidance.
    • In cases involving execution of such multiple agreements, two essential features exist; firstly, all ancillary agreements are relatable to the mother agreement and secondly, performance of one is so intrinsically inter-linked with the other agreements that they are incapable of being beneficially performed without performance of the others or severed from the rest. The intention of the parties To refer all the disputes between all the parties to the arbitral tribunal is one of the determinative factor.
    • The Court will have to examine such pleas with greater caution and by definite reference to the language of the contract and intention of the parties. In the case of composite transactions and multiple agreements, it may again be possible to invoke such principle in accepting the pleas of non-signatory parties for reference to arbitration. Where the agreements are consequential and in the nature of a follow-up to the principal or mother agreement, the latter containing the arbitration agreement and such agreements being so intrinsically intermingled or inter-dependent that it is their composite performance which shall discharge the parties of their respective mutual obligations and performances, this would be a sufficient indicator of intent of the parties to refer signatory as well as non-signatory parties to arbitration.
    • The principle of ‘composite performance’ would have to be gathered from the conjoint reading of the principal and supplementary agreements on the one hand and the explicit intention of the parties and the attendant circumstances on the other.
    • In India, the law has been construed more liberally, towards accepting incorporation by reference. In the case of Owners and Parties Interested in the Vessel M.V. “Baltic Confidence” & Anr. v. State Trading Corporation of India Ltd. & Anr. [(2001) 7 SCC 473], the Court was considering the question as to whether the arbitration clause in a Charter Party Agreement was incorporated by reference in the Bill of Lading and what the intention of the parties to the Bill of Lading was. The primary document was the Bill of Lading, which, if read in the manner provided in the incorporation clause thereof, would include the arbitration clause of the Charter Party Agreement. The Court observed that while ascertaining the intention of the parties, attempt should be made to give meaning and effect to the incorporation clause and not to invalidate or frustrate it by giving it a literal, pedantic and technical reading.
    • Reference can also be made to the judgment of this Court in the case of Olympus Superstructure Pvt. Ltd. v. Meena Vijay Khetan & Ors. [(1999) 5 SCC 651], where the parties had entered into a purchase agreement for the purchase of flats. The main agreement contained the arbitration clause (clause 39). The parties also entered into three different Interior Design Agreements, which also contained arbitration clauses. The main agreement was terminated due to disputes about payment and non-grant of possession. These disputes were referred to arbitration. A sole arbitrator was appointed to make awards in this respect. Inter alia, the question was raised as to whether the disputes under the Interior Design Agreements were subject to their independent arbitration clauses or whether one and the same reference was permissible under the main agreement. It was argued that the reference under clause 39 of the main agreement could not permit the arbitrator to deal with the disputes relating to Interior Design Agreements and the award was void. The Court, however, took the view that parties had entered into multiple agreements for a common object and the expression ‘other matters…connected with’ appearing in clause 39 would permit such a reference.
    • This finding of the Court clearly supports the view that where the law does not prohibit the exercise of a particular power, either the Arbitral Tribunal or the Court could exercise such power.
    • The New York Convention ,Article II provides that each contracting State shall recognise an agreement and submit to arbitration all or any differences which have arisen or which may arise between them in respect of a defined legal relationship, whether contractual or not concerning a subject matter capable of settlement by arbitration. Once the agreement is there and the Court is seized of an action in relation to such subject matter, then on the request of one of the parties, it would refer the parties to arbitration unless the agreement is null and void, inoperative or incapable of performance.
    • There is some element of similarity in the language of Section 8 and Section 45 read with Article II(3). The language and expressions used in Section 45, ‘any person claiming through or under him’ including in legal proceedings may seek reference of all parties to arbitration. Once the words used by the Legislature are of wider connotation or the very language of section is structured with liberal protection then such provision should normally be construed liberally.
    • Examined from the point of view of the legislative object and the intent of the framers of the statute, i.e., the necessity to encourage arbitration, the Court is required to exercise its jurisdiction in a pending action, to hold the parties to the arbitration clause and not to permit them to avoid their bargain of arbitration by bringing civil action involving

multifarious cause of action, parties and prayers. It may be the result of implied or specific consent or judicial determination.

  1. Normally, the parties to the arbitration agreement calling for arbitral reference should be the same as those to the an action. But this general concept is subject to exceptions which are that when a third party, i.e. non-signatory party, is claiming or is sued as being directly affected through a party to the arbitration agreement and there are principal and subsidiary agreements, and such third party is signatory to a subsidiary agreement and not to the mother or principal agreement which contains the arbitration clause, then depending upon the facts and circumstances of the given case, it may be possible to say that even such third party can be referred to arbitration.
    1. In the present case, the corporate structure of the respondent companies as well as that of the appellant companies clearly demonstrates a legal relationship which not only is inter-legal relationship but also intra-legal relationship between the parties to the lis or persons claiming under them. They have contractual relationship which arises out of the various contracts that spell out the terms, obligations and roles of the respective parties which they were expected to perform for attaining the object of successful completion of the joint venture agreement. This joint venture project was not dependant on any single agreement but was capable of being achieved only upon fulfillment of all these agreements. If one floats a joint venture company, one must essentially know-how to manage it and what shall be the methodology adopted for its management. If one manages it well, one must know what goods the said company is to produce and with what technical know how. Even if these requisites are satisfied, then also one is required to know, how to create market, distribute and export such goods. It is nothing but one single chain consisting of different components. The parties may choose to sign different agreements to effectively implement various aforementioned facets right from managing to making profits in a joint venture company. A party may not be signatory to an agreement but its execution may directly be relatable to the main contract even though he claims through or under one of the main party to the agreement. In such situations, the parties would aim at achieving the object of making their bargain successful, by execution of various agreements, like in the present case.
    • Section 45 is a provision falling under Chapter I of Part II of the 1996 Act which is a self-contained Code. The expression ‘person claiming through or under’ would mean and take within its ambit multiple and multi-party agreements, though in exceptional case. Even non-signatory parties to some of the agreements can pray and be referred to arbitration provided they satisfy the pre-requisites under Sections 44 and 45 read with Schedule I. Reference of non-signatory parties is neither unknown to arbitration jurisprudence nor is it impermissible.
    • In the facts of a given case, the Court is always vested with the power to delete the name of the parties who are neither necessary nor proper to the proceedings before the Court. In the cases of group companies or where various agreements constitute a composite transaction like mother agreement and all other agreements being ancillary to and for effective and complete implementation of the Mother Agreement, the court may have to make reference to arbitration even of the disputes existing between signatory or even non-signatory parties. However, the discretion of the Court has to be exercised in exceptional, limiting, befitting and cases of necessity and very cautiously.
    • Court directed all the disputes arise in the suit and from the agreement between the parties to be referred to arbitral tribunal and be decided in accordance with the Rules of ICC.
    • The appeals are dismissed. However, in the facts and circumstances of the present case, we do not award costs.

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