DHL Global Forwarding (Canada) Inc. v. CMA-CGM S.A.

In Arbitration/Jurisdiction Clauses in Maritime Law, Stays of Proceedings on (Updated )

Précis: A jurisdiction clause in a bill of lading was enforced against the shipper’s agent.

The plaintiff issued bills of lading for 68 containers carried by the defendant from Halifax to Ho Chi Minh City. Upon the arrival in Vietnam, the containers were put into storage because the bills of lading had not been released by the plaintiff. Apparently the shipper had failed to pay the freight charges owing to the plaintiff. The defendant brought proceedings before the Tribunale de Commerce de Marseille against the plaintiff and consignee for demurrage and storage charges. After receiving notice of the French proceedings the plaintiff commenced these proceedings in the Federal Court for a declaration it was not liable for demurrage and storage charges. The defendant then brought this motion under s. 50 of the Federal Courts Act for a stay of the Federal Court proceedings on the grounds of a jurisdiction clause in the bills of lading in favour of the Marseille tribunal.

Decision: Motion granted.

Held: Although the plaintiff was acting as agent for the shipper, the terms of the bill of lading define “holder” as any person in possession of the bill of lading and define “Merchant” as including anyone acting on behalf of a shipper. Under these definitions the plaintiff was a “Holder” and a “Merchant” and is bound by the jurisdiction clause in the bills of lading.