Société des Etablissements Poclain v Morflot USSR

Date01 février 1977
CourtCommercial Court (France)
France, Tribunal de Commerce of Paris.

(Mathis, President)

Socit des Ets. Poclain and Cie d'Assurances la Concorde
Morflot USSR and Others

Sovereign immunity Foreign States and State-owned corporations Vessel operated by Soviet State-owned shipping company Liability for carriage of goods Whether shipping company entitled to jurisdictional immunity Legal status of shipping company Acts iure imperii and iure gestionis The law of France

Summary: The fads:A French firm sold six mobile cranes to a Soviet organisation under an FOB contract which provided for stowage on board a Soviet vessel in Le Havre. In the course of loading the cranes on to the vessel one of them was dropped on to the quayside and damaged beyond repair. The sellers had to supply a new crane and brought an action to recover their loss against the carriers on the grounds that the loaders had been acting as agents of the carriers when the damage occurred. The carriers, a Soviet shipping company, claimed in interlocutory proceedings to he entitled to immunity from jurisdiction as a branch of the Soviet Ministry of the Merchant Marine.

Held:The plea of jurisdictional immunity was rejected. In reality Morflot was a shipping company with its own legal personality which had carried out ordinary commercial operations in France and could be compared to a French nationalised industry.

The following is the text of the relevant part of the judgment of the Court:

On 15 March 1974 the Socit Poclain concluded a contract with the Machinoimport Company of Moscow whereby it sold six mobile cranes type PPM 2807 for the price of 545, 750 francs per unit stowed FOB Le Havre. Under the terms of this contract Machinoimport's agent for transport and taking charge of the equipment from the port of embarkation and for coordination of delivery from the factory of the seller or of its suppliers to the port of embarkation was the Socit Mory, 3 rue Saint-Vincent-de-Paul, Paris.

On 7 October 1974 crane No. 4125, after having been taken in charge by the Socit Perrigault, a harbour handling company of Le Havre, for loading on board the vessel Pioner-Arkhangelska whose owner is Morflot, the Ministry for the Merchant Marine of the USSR, fell back on to the quay from a height of about 10 metres, thereby sustaining severe damage.

By an order of 8 October 1974 in exercise of his summary jurisdiction the President of the Tribunal de Commerce of Le Havre appointed Ellero as expert with the task, in particular, of quantifying...

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