Judgments - Golden Strait Corporation (Appellants) v. Nippon Yusen Kubishka Kaisha (Respondents)

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    17.  Kaines (UK) Ltd v Osterreichische Warrenhandelsgesellschaft Austrowaren Gesellschaft m.b.H. [1993] 2 Lloyd's Rep 1 concerned not a charterparty but a contract for the sale and purchase of crude oil. The sellers repudiated and at 17.28 hours on 18 June 1987 the buyers accepted the repudiation. Steyn J held that the buyers should have replaced the oil in the market by, at latest, 19 June, and their damages were assessed accordingly. It was an anticipatory repudiation. Both the judge and the Court of Appeal in dismissing the appeal cited with approval (pp 7, 10) a passage in Treitel, The Law of Contract, 7th ed (1987), p 742:

    "Under this [mitigation] rule, the injured party may, and if there is a market generally will, be required to make a substitute contract; and his damages will be assessed by reference to the time when the contract should have been made. This will usually be the time of acceptance of the breach (or such reasonable time thereafter as may be allowed under the rules stated above) …"

The Court of Appeal observed (p 11) that the judge's finding on the date when the buyers should have bought in a substitute cargo "fixes the level of the plaintiffs' damages on the facts of this case irrespective of what the plaintiffs did or failed to do at the time" and (p 13) "crystallises the position so far as the basis of a capital award of damages is concerned".

    18.  The buyers in North Sea Energy Holdings NV v Petroleum Authority of Thailand [1999] 1 Lloyd's Rep 483 repudiated an oil purchase agreement and the sellers accepted their repudiation. The sellers could not, however, show that they would have been able to obtain the oil to sell, and the Court of Appeal accordingly held that they were not entitled to substantial damages. In reaching this conclusion the court cited and applied part of Megaw LJ's statement in the Mihalis Angelos which I have quoted in para 14 above.

    19.  BS & N Ltd (BVI) v Micado Shipping Ltd (Malta) ("The Seaflower") [2000] 2 Lloyd's Rep 37 concerned a time charterparty dated 20 October 1997 for a period of 11 months, maximum 12 months at charterers' option. The charterparty referred to various major oil company approvals including that of Mobil all on the point of expiring and provided that if during the charter term the owners lost one of these approvals they should reinstate the same within 30 days failing which the charterers would be at liberty to cancel the charterparty. It also contained a guarantee by the owners to obtain an approval from Exxon within 60 days of the charter date. The vessel was duly delivered but the owners had not obtained an Exxon approval from Exxon and did not do so within 60 days from the charter date. On 30 December 1997 the charterers fixed the vessel to load a cargo of Exxon products. On the same date the charterers asked the owners if they had obtained the Exxon approval and gave notice requiring the owners to obtain it by 5 January 1998. The owners replied that the vessel would be ready for Exxon inspection by late January or early February. The charterers responded by terminating the charter and redelivering the vessel. At an initial hearing Aikens J held that the 60-day guarantee was an innominate term, not a condition. Thus the charterers were not entitled to terminate, and had repudiated the charterparty, which the owners had accepted. In proceedings initiated by the charterers, the owners counterclaimed for damages for wrongful termination of the charter, quantified as the difference between the daily hire rates in the charter and the alternative employment found for the vessel for the rest of the charter period. The charterers met this claim by contending that the owners would have lost their Mobil approval on 27 January 1998 and would not have been able to regain it within 30 days, namely 26 February: therefore the charterers would be contractually entitled to cancel, and the owners' damages should end then. Timothy Walker J discerned a difference between the three judgments in the Mihalis Angelos, discounting Megaw LJ's formulation as that of a minority, but found on the facts, as established at 30 December 1997, that the owners would have lost the Mobil approval on 27 January 1998. This conclusion he found to be supported by evidence of what actually happened after 30 December. He concluded that it was inevitable that the charter would have come to an end on 26 February, and limited the owners' damages accordingly. This was, as I read the judgment, a conclusion he regarded as inevitable on 30 December. It does not appear that there was argument about the permissibility of relying on evidence of what happened later, and the judge cannot have supposed that he was deciding any issue of principle. The result of this case was perhaps less obvious than that on the third issue in the Mihalis Angelos, but it was a judgment, on different facts, to very much the same effect. It was quite unlike the present case, because early termination was very clearly predictable on the date when the repudiation was accepted, and the judge only relied on evidence of later events to fortify his conclusion on that point. I do not think he would have reached a different conclusion had he not received that evidence.

    20.  Dampskibsselskabet "Norden" A/S v Andre & Cie SA [2003] EWHC 84 (Comm), [2003] 1 Lloyd's Rep 287 is a recent example of the application of the general rule. A forward freight swap agreement was treated as terminated because of the defendants' breach of solvency guarantees. It was common ground by the end of the trial that the injured party's loss was to be measured by the difference between the contract rate and the market rate after the date of termination. Toulson J recorded this agreement, observing (p 292, col 2) that "The availability of a substitute market enables a market valuation to be made of what the innocent party has lost, and a line thereby to be drawn under the transaction". This is what the general rule is intended to achieve.

    21.  In support of their argument that damages should be assessed as of the date of actual assessment, the charterers contend that their claim attributable to loss of profit share would in any event have to be deferred. Neither the arbitrator nor the judge mentioned this point, from which it seems safe to infer that the point was not at that stage relied on. But Lord Mance, giving the leading judgment in the Court of Appeal, did refer to it (para 25), and counsel for the owners accepted in argument that the assessment of the profit share loss would have had to be deferred. I am far from convinced that counsel was right to accept this. It would of course be very difficult to calculate loss of profit prospectively over a four year period, but an injured party can recover damages for the loss of a chance of obtaining a benefit (see Treitel, 11th ed, (2003), pp 955-957) and the difficulty of accurate calculation is not a bar to recovery. Even if counsel is right on this point and I am wrong, this would not in my view be sufficient to displace the general rule in this context.

Conclusion

    22.  The thrust of the charterers' argument was that the owners would be unfairly over-compensated if they were to recover as damages sums which, with the benefit of hindsight, it is now known that they would not have received had there been no accepted repudiation by the charterers. There are, in my opinion, several answers to this. The first is that contracts are made to be performed, not broken. It may prove disadvantageous to break a contract instead of performing it. The second is that if, on their repudiation being accepted, the charterers had promptly honoured their secondary obligation to pay damages, the transaction would have been settled well before the Second Gulf War became a reality. The third is that the owners were, as the arbitrator held (see para 7 above), entitled to be compensated for the value of what they had lost on the date it was lost, and it could not be doubted that what the owners lost at that date was a charterparty with slightly less than four years to run. This was a clear and, in my opinion, crucial finding, but it was not mentioned in either of the judgments below, nor is it mentioned by any of my noble and learned friends in the majority. On the arbitrator's finding, it was marketable on that basis. I can readily accept that the value of a contract in the market may be reduced if terminable on an event which the market judges to be likely but not certain, but that was not what the arbitrator found to be the fact in this case. There is, with respect to those who think otherwise, nothing artificial in this approach. If a party is compensated for the value of what he has lost at the time when he loses it, and its value is at that time for any reason depressed, he is fairly compensated. That does not cease to be so because adventitious later events reveal that the market at that time was depressed by the apprehension of risks that did not eventuate. A party is not, after all, obliged to accept a repudiation: he can, if he chooses, keep the contract alive, for better or worse. By describing the prospect of war in December 2001 as "merely a possibility", the expression twice used by the arbitrator in paragraph 59 of his reasons, the arbitrator can only have meant that it was seen as an outside chance, not affecting the marketable value of the charter at that time.

    23.  There is, however, a further answer which I, in common with the arbitrator, consider to be of great importance. He acknowledged the force of arguments advanced by the owners based on certainty ("generally important in commercial affairs"), finality ("the alternative being a running assessment of the state of play so far as the likelihood of some interruption to the contract is concerned"), settlement ("otherwise the position will remain fluid"), consistency ("the idea that a party's accrued rights can be changed by subsequent events is objectionable in principle") and coherence ("the date of repudiation is the date on which rights and damages are assessed"). The judge was not greatly impressed by the charterers' argument along these lines, observing (paras 13, 35) that although certainty is a real and beneficial target, it is not easily achieved, and the charterparty contained within it the commercial uncertainty of the war clause. Lord Mance similarly said (para 24):

    "Certainty, finality and ease of settlement are all of course important general considerations. But the element of uncertainty, resulting from the war clause, meant that the owners were never entitled to absolute confidence that the charter would run for its full seven-year period. They never had an asset which they could bank or sell on that basis. There is no reason why the transmutation of their claims to performance of the charter into claims for damages for non-performance of the charter should improve their position in this respect."

I cannot, with respect, accept this reasoning. The importance of certainty and predictability in commercial transactions has been a constant theme of English commercial law at any rate since the judgment of Lord Mansfield CJ in Vallejo v Wheeler (1774) 1 Cowp 143, 153), and has been strongly asserted in recent years in cases such as Scandinavian Trading Tanker Co AB v Flota Petrolera Ecuatoriana ("The Scaptrade") [1983] QB 529, 540-541, [1983] 2 AC 694, 703-704; Homburg Houtimport BV v Agrosin Private Ltd [2003] UKHL 12, [2004] 1 AC 715, 738; Jindal Iron and Steel Co Ltd v Islamic Solidarity Shipping Co Jordan Inc ("The Jordan II") [2004] UKHL 49, [2005] 1 WLR 1363, 1370. Professor Sir Guenter Treitel QC read the Court of Appeal's judgment as appearing to impair this quality of certainty ("Assessment of Damages for Wrongful Repudiation", (2007) 123 LQR 9-18) and I respectfully share his concern.

    24.  On my reading of The Seaflower (see para 19 above), I do not think the arbitrator was bound by that decision to reach the conclusion he did. If he was, I respectfully think the judge was wrong to analyse the Mihalis Angelos as he did in that case. But on the facts Timothy Walker J was entitled to value the owners' charter in that case at two months' purchase as of the repudiation acceptance date. In the present case, by contrast, the arbitrator found four years' purchase (less a few days) as the true market value of the charterparty on the repudiation acceptance date.

    25.  For these reasons and those given by my noble and learned friend Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe, with which I wholly agree, I would, for my part, have allowed the owners' appeal.

LORD SCOTT OF FOSCOTE

My Lords,

    26.  The facts of this case have been fully and clearly set out in the opinions of my noble and learned friends Lord Bingham of Cornhill and Lord Carswell, both of which I have had the advantage of reading in advance. It will suffice for me to state in summary form what I take to be the salient features of the facts that have led to this litigation and to the appeal to your Lordships.

    27.  The charterparty of 10 July 1998 whereby the appellants (the Owners) and the respondents (the Charterers) agreed on a charter of the vessel, Golden Victory, for a period ending on 6 December 2005 contained a provision (clause 33) enabling either party to cancel the charter if war or hostilities should break out between any two or more of a number of named countries. The named countries included the USA, the UK and Iraq. The Charterers in breach of contract repudiated the charter on 14 December 2001 when the charter had nearly four years still to run (but subject, of course, to the clause 33 possibilities of cancellation). The Owners accepted the repudiation on 17 December 2001 and claimed damages for the Charterers' breach of contract. The Owners' claim went to arbitration and, after various issues had been determined by the arbitrator, all in the Owners' favour, but before the arbitrator had assessed the quantum of the damages payable by the Charterers, the outbreak, in March 2003, of the Second Gulf War occurred. The Charterers said that if the charterparty had still been on foot when the Second Gulf War began they would have exercized their clause 33 right to bring the charter to an end. They submitted, therefore, that the Owners' damages for their (the Charterers') breach of contract should be assessed by reference to the period from 17 December 2001, when the contract came to an end on the Owners' acceptance of their repudiation, to March 2003, when the contract would have come to an end if it had still been on foot. The Owners disagreed. They said the damages should be assessed by reference to the value of their rights under the charterparty as at 17 December 2001. That assessment could properly take account of the chance, assessed as at 17 December 2001, that a clause 33 event enabling one or other party to terminate the contract might occur, but should not take account of the actual occurrence of any event subsequent to 17 December 2001. The question was put to the arbitrator for decision. As your Lordships know, the arbitrator decided the question in favour of the Charterers. Langley J did likewise and the Court of Appeal agreed. The question is now before your Lordships for a final decision.

    28.  Two important matters that have, or may have, a bearing on the answer to the question are now common ground. First, it is common ground that, if the charterparty had still been on foot when, in March 2003, hostilities between the USA and the UK on one side and Iraq on the other side began, the Charterers would have exercised their clause 33 right to terminate the charterparty. Second, it is common ground that as at 17 December 2001 the chance that any hostilities triggering the clause 33 right of termination would break out was no more than a possibility and certainly not a probability.

    29.  My Lords, the answer to the question at issue must depend on principles of the law of contract. It is true that the context in this case is a charterparty, a commercial contract. But the contractual principles of the common law relating to the assessment of damages are no different for charterparties, or for commercial contracts in general, than for contracts which do not bear that description. The fundamental principle governing the quantum of damages for breach of contract is long established and not in dispute. The damages should compensate the victim of the breach for the loss of his contractual bargain. The principle was succinctly stated by Parke B in Robinson v. Harman 1 Ex 850 at 855 and remains as valid now as it was then.

    "The rule of the common law is, that where a party sustains a loss by reason of a breach of contract, he is, so far as money can do it, to be placed in the same situation, with respect to damages, as if the contract had been performed."

If the contract is a contract for performance over a period, whether for the performance of personal services, or for supply of goods, or, as here, a time charter, the assessment of damages for breach must proceed on the same principle, namely, the victim of the breach should be placed, so far as damages can do it, in the position he would have been in had the contract been performed.

    30.  If a contract for performance over a period has come to an end by reason of a repudiatory breach but might, if it had remained on foot, have terminated early on the occurrence of a particular event, the chance of that event happening must, it is agreed, be taken into account in an assessment of the damages payable for the breach. And if it is certain that the event will happen, the damages must be assessed on that footing. In The Mihalis Angelos [1971] 1 QB 164, Megaw LJ referred to events "predestined to happen". He said, at p.210, that:

    "… if it can be shown that those events were, at the date of acceptance of the repudiation, predestined to happen, then … the damages which [the claimant] can recover are not more than the true value, if any, of the rights which he has lost, having regard to those predestined events."

Another way of putting the point being made by Megaw LJ is that the claimant is entitled to the benefit, expressed in money, of the contractual rights he has lost, but not to the benefit of more valuable contractual rights than those he has lost. In Wertheim v. Chicoutimi Pulp Co. [1911] AC 301, Lord Atkinson referred, at 307, to:

    "… the general intention of the law that, in giving damages for breach of contract, the party complaining should, so far as it can be done by money, be placed in the same position as he would have been in if the contract had been performed"

and, in relation to a claim by a purchaser for damages for late delivery of goods where the purchaser had, after the late delivery, sold the goods for a higher price than that prevailing in the market on the date of delivery, observed, at 308, that:

    "… the loss he sustains must be measured by that price, unless he is, against all justice, to be permitted to make a profit by the breach of contract, be compensated for a loss he never suffered, and be put, as far as money can do it, not in the same position in which he would have been if the contract had been performed, but in a much better position."

    31.  The result contended for by the appellant in the present case is, to my mind, similar to that contemplated by Lord Atkinson in the passage last cited. If the charterparty had not been repudiated and had remained on foot, it would have been terminated by the Charterers in or shortly after March 2003 when the Second Gulf War triggered the clause 33 termination option. But the Owners are claiming damages up to 6 December 2005 on the footing, now known to be false, that the charterparty would have continued until then. It is contended that because the Charterers' repudiation and its acceptance by the Owners preceded the March 2003 event, the rule requiring damages for breach of contract to be assessed at the date of breach requires that event to be ignored.

    32.  That contention, in my opinion, attributes to the assessment of damages at the date of breach rule an inflexibility which is inconsistent both with principle and with the authorities. The underlying principle is that the victim of a breach of contract is entitled to damages representing the value of the contractual benefit to which he was entitled but of which he has been deprived. He is entitled to be put in the same position, so far as money can do it, as if the contract had been performed. The assessment at the date of breach rule can usually achieve that result. But not always. In Miliangos v Frank (Textiles) Ltd [1976] AC 443 Lord Wilberforce at 468 referred to "the general rule" that damages for breach of contract are assessed as at the date of breach but went on to observe that:

    "… It is for the courts, or for arbitrators, to work out a solution in each case best adapted to giving the injured plaintiff that amount in damages which will most fairly compensate him for the wrong which he has suffered…"

and, when considering the date at which a foreign money obligation should be converted into sterling, chose the date that "gets nearest to securing to the creditor exactly what he bargained for". If a money award of damages for breach of contract provides to the creditor a lesser or a greater benefit than the creditor bargained for, the award fails, in either case, to provide a just result.

    33.  In Dodd Properties v Canterbury City Council [1980] 1 WLR 433, Megaw LJ, commenting on the "general rule" to which Lord Wilberforce had referred in the Miliangos case, said, at 451, that it was "clear" that the general rule was "subject to many exceptions and qualifications". In County Personnel Ltd v. Alan R Pulver & Co. [1987] 1 WLR 916, Bingham LJ, as my noble and learned friend then was, said at 926 that the general rule that damages were assessed at the date of the breach "should not be mechanistically applied in circumstances where assessment at another date may more accurately reflect the overriding compensatory rule." In Lavarack v. Woods of Colchester Ltd [1967] 1 QB 278, the Court of Appeal held that damages for wrongful dismissal could not confer on an employee extra benefits that the contract did not oblige the employer to confer and Diplock LJ (as he then was) said at 294, that:

    "… the first task of the assessor of damages is to estimate as best he can what the plaintiff would have gained in money or money's worth if the defendant had fulfilled his legal obligations and had done no more. Where there is an anticipatory breach by wrongful repudiation, this can at best be an estimate, whatever the date of the hearing. It involves assuming that what has not occurred and never will occur has occurred or will occur, i.e. that the defendant has since the breach performed his legal obligations under the contract and, if the estimate is made before the contract would otherwise have come to an end, that he will continue to perform his legal obligations thereunder until the due date of its termination. But the assumption to be made is that the defendant has performed or will perform his legal obligations under his contract with the plaintiff and nothing more."

This passage was cited and applied by Waller LJ in giving his judgment, concurred in by Roch and Ward LJJ, in North Sea Energy Holdings NV v. Petroleum Authority of Thailand [1999] 1 Lloyd's Rep 483 at 494/5.

    34.  The assessment at the date of breach rule is particularly apt to cater for cases where a contract for the sale of goods in respect of which there is a market has been repudiated. The loss caused by the breach to the seller or the buyer, as the case may be, can be measured by the difference between the contract price and the market price at the time of the breach. The seller can re-sell his goods in the market. The buyer can buy substitute goods in the market. Thereby the loss caused by the breach can be fixed. But even here some period must usually be allowed to enable the necessary arrangements for the substitute sale or purchase to be made (see e.g. Kaines v. Österreichische [1993] 2 Lloyd's Rep 1). The relevant market price for the purpose of assessing the quantum of the recoverable loss will be the market price at the expiration of that period.

    35.  In cases, however, where the contract for sale of goods is not simply a contract for a one-off sale, but is a contract for the supply of goods over some specified period, the application of the general rule may not be in the least apt. Take the case of a three year contract for the supply of goods and a repudiatory breach of the contract at the end of the first year. The breach is accepted and damages are claimed but before the assessment of the damages an event occurs that, if it had occurred while the contract was still on foot, would have been a frustrating event terminating the contract, e.g. legislation prohibiting any sale of the goods. The contractual benefit of which the victim of the breach of contract had been deprived by the breach would not have extended beyond the date of the frustrating event. So on what principled basis could the victim claim compensation attributable to a loss of contractual benefit after that date? Any rule that required damages attributable to that period to be paid would be inconsistent with the overriding compensatory principle on which awards of contractual damages ought to be based.

    36.  The same would, in my opinion, be true of any anticipatory breach the acceptance of which had terminated an executory contract. The contractual benefit for the loss of which the victim of the breach can seek compensation cannot escape the uncertainties of the future. If, at the time the assessment of damages takes place, there were nothing to suggest that the expected benefit of the executory contract would not, if the contract had remained on foot, have duly accrued, then the quantum of damages would be unaffected by uncertainties that would be no more than conceptual. If there were a real possibility that an event would happen terminating the contract, or in some way reducing the contractual benefit to which the damages claimant would, if the contract had remained on foot, have become entitled, then the quantum of damages might need, in order to reflect the extent of the chance that that possibility might materialize, to be reduced proportionately. The lodestar is that the damages should represent the value of the contractual benefits of which the claimant had been deprived by the breach of contract, no less but also no more. But if a terminating event had happened, speculation would not be needed, an estimate of the extent of the chance of such a happening would no longer be necessary and, in relation to the period during which the contract would have remained executory had it not been for the terminating event, it would be apparent that the earlier anticipatory breach of contract had deprived the victim of the breach of nothing. In the Bwllfa case [1903] AC 426, Lord Halsbury at 429 rejected the proposition that "because you could not arrive at the true sum when the notice was given, you should shut your eyes to the true sum now you do know it, because you could not have guessed it then" and Lord Robertson said at 432, that "estimate and conjecture are superseded by facts as the proper media concludendi" and, at 433, that "as in this instance facts are available, they are not to be shut out". Their Lordships were not dealing with a contractual, or tortious, damages issue but with the quantum of compensation to be paid under the Waterworks Clauses Act 1847. Their approach, however, is to my mind as apt for our purposes on this appeal as to theirs on that appeal.

 
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