Nedlloyd Lines B.V. v. Superior Court

Citation834 P.2d 1148,11 Cal.Rptr.2d 330,3 Cal.4th 459
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Decision Date31 August 1992
Parties, 834 P.2d 1148, 1994 A.M.C. 531 NEDLLOYD LINES B.V. et al., Petitioners, v. The SUPERIOR COURT OF SAN MATEO COUNTY, Respondent; SEAWINDS LIMITED, Real Party in Interest. S015917, S019540.

Walsh, Donovan, Lindh & Keech, Charles S. Donovan, James R. Walsh, Edward M. Keech, Ann S. Crownover and Elizabeth M. Miller, San Francisco, for petitioners.

No appearance for respondent.

Furth, Fahrner & Mason, Thomas R. Fahrner, Michele C. Jackson and Michael R. Hudson, San Francisco, for real party in interest.

BAXTER, Associate Justice.

We granted review to consider the effect of a choice-of-law clause in a contract between commercial entities to finance and operate an international shipping business. In our order granting review, we limited our consideration to the question whether and to what extent the law of Hong Kong, chosen in the parties' agreement, should be applied in ruling on defendant's demurrer to plaintiff's complaint.

We conclude the choice-of-law clause, which requires that the contract be "governed by" the law of Hong Kong, a jurisdiction having a substantial connection with the parties, is fully enforceable and applicable to claims for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing and for breach of fiduciary duties allegedly arising out of the contract. Our conclusion rests on the choice-of-law rules derived from California decisions and the Restatement Second of Conflict of Laws, which reflect strong policy considerations favoring the enforcement of freely negotiated choice-of-law clauses. Based on our conclusion, we will reverse the judgments of the Court of Appeal and remand for further proceedings.


Plaintiff and real party in interest Seawinds Limited (Seawinds) is a shipping company, currently undergoing reorganization under chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code, whose business consists of the operation of three container ships. Seawinds was incorporated in Hong Kong in late 1982 and has its principal place of business in Redwood City, California. Defendants and petitioners Nedlloyd Lines B.V., Royal Nedlloyd Group N.V., and KNSM Lines B.V. (collectively referred to as Nedlloyd) are interrelated shipping companies incorporated in the Netherlands with their principal place of business in Rotterdam.

In March 1983, Nedlloyd and other parties (including an Oregon corporation, a Hong Kong corporation, a British corporation, three individual residents of California, and a resident of Singapore) entered into a contract with Seawinds to purchase shares of Seawinds's stock. The contract, which was entitled "Shareholders' Agreement in Respect of Seawinds Limited," stated that its purpose was "to establish [Seawinds] as a joint venture company to carry on a transportation operation." The The shareholders' agreement between the parties contained the following choice-of-law and forum selection provision: "This agreement shall be governed by and construed in accordance with Hong Kong law and each party hereby irrevocably submits to the non-exclusive jurisdiction and service of process of the Hong Kong courts."

[834 P.2d 1150] agreement also provided that Seawinds would carry on the business of the transportation [3 Cal.4th 463] company and that the parties to the agreement would use "means reasonably available" to ensure the business was a success.

In January 1989, Seawinds sued Nedlloyd, alleging in essence that Nedlloyd breached express and implied obligations under the shareholders' agreement by: "(1) engaging in activities that led to the cancellation of charter hires that were essential to Seawinds' business; (2) attempting to interfere with a proposed joint service agreement between Seawinds and the East Asiatic Company, and delaying its implementation; (3) making and then reneging on commitments to contribute additional capital, thereby dissuading others from dealing with Seawinds, and (4) making false and disparaging statements about Seawinds' business operations and financial condition." Seawinds's original and first amended complaint included causes of action for breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing (in both contract and tort), and breach of fiduciary duty. This matter comes before us after trial court rulings on demurrers to Seawinds's complaints.

Nedlloyd demurred to Seawinds's original complaint on the grounds that it failed to state causes of action for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing (either in contract or in tort) and breach of fiduciary duty. In support of its demurrer, Nedlloyd contended the shareholders' agreement required the application of Hong Kong law to Seawinds's claims. In opposition to the demurrer, Seawinds argued that California law should be applied to its causes of action.

In ruling on Nedlloyd's demurrer, the trial court expressly determined that California law applied to all of Seawinds's causes of action. It sustained the demurrers with leave to amend as to all causes of action, relying on grounds not pertinent to the issues before us. Nedlloyd sought a writ of mandate from the Court of Appeal directing the application of Hong Kong law. After the Court of Appeal summarily denied Nedlloyd's initial writ petition, we granted Nedlloyd's petition for review and transferred the case back to the Court of Appeal with instructions to issue an alternative writ.

After complying with our direction, the Court of Appeal denied Nedlloyd's first writ petition and discharged the alternative writ. In a published opinion, the Court of Appeal upheld the application of California law to Seawinds's claims. We granted Nedlloyd's petition for review.

In the meantime, the trial court overruled Nedlloyd's demurrer to Seawinds's first amended complaint, again applying California law to Seawinds's causes of action. The Court of Appeal summarily denied Nedlloyd's second writ petition challenging the order overruling the latter demurrer; we also granted review of that order and consolidated proceedings on the two writ matters so as to preserve the choice-of-law issue for review. As noted above, we have limited review in both proceedings to the choice-of-law issue.


I. The proper test

We have not previously considered the enforceability of a contractual choice-of-law provision. We have, however, addressed the closely related issue of the enforceability of a contractual choice-of-forum provision, and we have made clear that, "No satisfying reason of public policy has been suggested why enforcement should be denied a forum selection clause appearing in a contract entered into freely and voluntarily by parties who have negotiated at arm's length." (Smith, Valentino & Smith, Inc. v. Superior Court (1976) 17 Cal.3d 491, 495-496, 131 Cal.Rptr. 374, 551 P.2d 1206 (Smith ).) The forum selection provision in We reaffirm this approach. In determining the enforceability of arm's-length contractual choice-of-law provisions, California courts shall apply the principles set forth in Restatement section 187, which reflect a strong policy favoring enforcement of such provisions. 2

                [834 P.2d 1151] Smith was contained within a choice-of-law clause, and we observed that, "Such choice of law provisions are usually respected by California courts."  (Id., at p. 494, 131 Cal.Rptr. 374, 551 P.2d 1206.)   We noted this result was consistent with the modern approach of section 187 of the Restatement Second of Conflict of Laws (Restatement).  (17 Cal.3d at p. 494, 131 Cal.Rptr. 374, 551 P.2d 1206.)   Prior Court of Appeal decisions, although not always explicitly referring to the Restatement, also overwhelmingly reflect the modern, mainstream approach adopted in the Restatement.  (Mencor Enterprises, Inc. v. Hets Equities Corp.  (1987) 190 Cal.App.3d 432, 435-436, 235 Cal.Rptr. 464 [explicit reference to Restatement section 187];  Hall v. Superior Court (1983) 150 Cal.App.3d 411, 417, 197 Cal.Rptr. 757 [no explicit reference];  Ashland Chemical Co. v. Provence (1982) 129 Cal.App.3d 790, 794-795, 181 Cal.Rptr. 340 [no explicit reference];  Gamer v. duPont Glore Forgan, Inc.  (1976) 65 Cal.App.3d 280, 287, 135 Cal.Rptr. 230 [explicit reference to Restatement section 187].) 1

More specifically, Restatement section 187, subdivision (2) sets forth the following standards: "The law of the state chosen by the parties to govern their contractual rights and duties will be applied, even if the particular issue is one which the parties could not have resolved by an explicit provision in their agreement directed to that issue, unless either [p] (a) the chosen state has no substantial relationship to the parties or the transaction and there is no other reasonable basis for the parties choice, or [p] (b) application of the law of the chosen state would be contrary to a fundamental policy of a state which has a materially greater interest than the chosen state in the determination of the particular issue and which, under the rule of § 188, would be the state of the applicable law in the absence of an effective choice of law by the parties." 3 Briefly restated, the proper approach under Restatement section 187, subdivision (2) is for the court first to determine either: (1) whether the chosen state has a substantial relationship to the parties or their transaction, or (2) whether there is any other reasonable basis for the parties' choice of law. If neither of these tests is met, that is the end of the inquiry, and the court need not enforce the parties' choice of law. 4 If, however, either test is met, the court must next determine whether the chosen state's law is contrary to a fundamental policy of California. 5 If there is no such conflict, the court shall enforce the parties' choice of law. If, however, there is a fundamental conflict with California law, the court...

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