South Carolina Insurance Company v Assurantie Maatschappij ‘De Zeven Provincien’South Carolina Insurance Company v Assurantie Maatschappij N.v

JurisdictionUK Non-devolved
JudgeLord Bridge of Harwich,Lord Brandon of Oakbrook,Lord Brightman,Lord Mackay of Clashfern,Lord Goff of Chieveley
Judgment Date29 July 1986
Judgment citation (vLex)[1986] UKHL J0729-1
Date29 July 1986
CourtHouse of Lords
South Carolina Insurance Company (A Body Corporate)
Assurantie Maatschappij "De Zeven Provincien" NV
South Carolina Insurance Company (A Body Corporate)
Al Ahlia Insurance Company (A Body Corporate) and Others

[1986] UKHL J0729-1

Lord Bridge of Harwich

Lord Brandon of Oakbrook

Lord Brightman

Lord Mackay of Clashfern

Lord Goff of Chieveley

House of Lords

Lord Bridge of Harwich

My Lords,


For the reasons given in the speech of my noble and learned friend Lord Brandon of Oakbrook, with which I agree, I would allow this appeal.

Lord Brandon of Oakbrook

My Lords,


The question for decision in this appeal is a novel one and can be stated in this way. An action between A and B is pending before an English court. While it is pending B, exercising a statutory right potentially available to him under the Federal law of the United States, applies to a district court of the United States for an order that persons resident in the United States, who are not parties to the action before the English court, should give him pre-trial discovery of documents relevant to the issues in that action. In those circumstances, is it right for the English court, on the application of A, to grant an injunction against B prohibiting him from prosecuting further his proceedings in the United States district court? Hobhouse J. at first instance, and the Court of Appeal (Griffiths, Slade and Lloyd L.JJ.) on appeal from him, have held that it is right for such an injunction to be granted. The parties enjoined (for in the instant case there are three of them) now bring a further appeal with the leave of your Lordships' House.


The background of the case is to be found in what can conveniently be described as a three-tier insurance arrangement. The company which first insured the relevant risks was a United States company, United National Insurance Co. ("United National"). United National re-insured the risks which it had insured with another United States company, South Carolina Insurance Co. ("South Carolina"). South Carolina in turn re-re-insured the risks which it had re-insured with a number of other insurance companies in the London market. These other insurance companies included a Dutch company, Assurantie Maatshappij "De Zeven Provincien" (Seven Provinces) and two Middle or Far Eastern companies, Al Ahlia Insurance Co. ("Al Ahlia") and Arabian Seas Insurance Co. ("Arabian Seas"). In or about 1984 South Carolina called upon Seven Provinces, Al Ahlia and Arabian Seas to pay substantial sums which South Carolina claimed to be due from them under the contracts of re-re-insurance concerned. Seven Provinces, Al Ahlia and Arabian Seas refused to make the payments asked for, denying that they were liable to do so.


As a result South Carolina brought two actions in the Commercial Court here in order to recover the sums which they claimed to be payable, together with interest on such sums. In the first action, which was begun on 12 December 1984, Seven Provinces is the sole defendant. In the second action, which was begun on 28 February 1985, Al Ahlia is the first defendant and Arabian Seas is the second defendant. It was the original intention of the solicitors acting for South Carolina to seek summary judgment in both actions under R.S.C. Ord. 14. However, at an application to fix a date for the hearing of the Ord. 14 proceedings against Seven Provinces, counsel for the latter indicated that a number of substantial defences would be raised to South Carolina's claim. These defences included (1) misrepresentation or non-disclosure regarding the retention position on the part of South Carolina; (2) non-disclosure of a previous bad loss record on the business concerned; (3) excessive deductions from premiums; and (4) payment of claims outside the limits of the relevant treaty.


The underwriting agent for United National through whom business was placed with it was Pacific General Agency Inc. ("P.G.A."). The loss adjusters who investigated the claims made against United National were Arthur Campbell-Husted and Co. ("Campbell-Husted"). The principal place of business of both P.G.A. and Campbell-Husted is in the State of Washington.


My Lords, Seven Provinces, Al Ahlia and Arabian Seas ("the re-re-insurers") are, by reasons of their position, remote from the facts in dispute, and obliged to rely for detailed information about them on such documents as they can obtain from South Carolina or P.G.A. and Campbell-Husted. The latter two, however, were not the agents of South Carolina in connection with the relevant transactions; it follows that discovery of documents by South Carolina in the two actions in England would not extend to relevant documents held by them. In this situation, if the re-re-insurers are to achieve their legitimate object of inspecting and copying where necessary, relevant documents held by P.G.A. and Campbell-Husted, some other means have to be found to enable them to do so.


In November 1984, after South Carolina had put forward its claims against the re-re-insurers, but before the two actions in England were begun, the latter had asked P.G.A. if they could inspect the documents in which they were interested at Seattle on 7 December 1984. P.G.A. referred the request to their principal, United National, which in turn consulted South Carolina. It appears that, on the advice of South Carolina's English solicitors, the request for inspection was, in effect, refused. The two actions in England were subsequently begun.


My Lords, 28 United States Code, section 1782, provides:

"Assistance to foreign and international tribunals and to litigants before such tribunals, (a) The district court of the district in which a person resides or is found may order him to give his testimony or statement or to produce a document or other thing for use in a foreign or international tribunal. The order may be made pursuant to a letter rogatory issued, or request made, by a foreign or international tribunal or upon the application of any interested person and may direct that the testimony or statement be given, or the document or other thing be produced, before a person appointed by the court. By virtue of his appointment, the person appointed has power to administer any necessary oath and take the testimony or statement. The order may prescribe the practice and procedure, which may be in whole or in part the practice and procedure of the foreign country or the international tribunal, for taking the testimony or statement or producing the document or other thing. To the extent that the order does not prescribe otherwise, the testimony or statement shall be taken, and the document or other thing produced, in accordance with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure."


On 28 March 1985, before the re-re-insurers had served their points of defence and counterclaims in the two actions against them in England, they applied by motion to the district court of the United States, Western District of Washington, at Seattle, for an order under section 1782 above. The motion, the title of which referred to the two actions in England, asked for an order against P.G.A. and Campbell-Husted involving two matters. The first matter was the production and inspection of numerous specified classes of documents of the kind which could reasonably be expected to have come into being in the course of the transaction of the insurance business which had led to United National, having settled claims itself, to recover from South Carolina as its re-insurers, and to South Carolina then claiming to recover over from the re-re-insurers. The second matter was the appearance of three named persons from P.G.A. and Campbell-Husted to give testimony by deposition. The motion was supported by a memorandum and an affidavit.


Notice of the re-re-insurers' motion was served on P.G.A. and Campbell-Husted. South Carolina was also served with notice of the motion, or otherewise made aware of its having been lodged. Neither P.G.A. nor Campbell-Husted appeared before the district court to resist the application. South Carolina, however, did so appear, and having indicated their objection to it, was given until 29 April 1985 to file its affidavit in opposition. It is to be inferred from the foregoing that neither P.G.A. nor Campbell-Husted objects to producing the documents listed in the motion for inspection, and where necessary for copying, by the re-re-insurers, and that it is only the objection of South Carolina that has stood in the way of their doing so.


On 24 April 1985, before the date fixed for filing its affidavit in opposition in the United States district court, South Carolina issued summonses in the two actions in England. By their summonses South Carolina sought (1) an order that the re-re-insurers should withdraw their application to the United States district court, (2) an injunction restraining the re-re-insurers from proceeding further with such application, and (3) a declaration that the application was an abuse of the process of the English court.


My Lords, the summonses were heard by Hobhouse J. on 25 April 1985. He declined to make the declaration asked for, but granted South Carolina injunctions restraining the re-re-insurers until further order from taking any further steps in their motion before the United States district court and from enforcing any order made by that court on such motion. The main ground on which Hobhouse J. decided to grant such injunctions appears from pp. 10 and 11 in Appendix I. Having set out what he called the framework of the matter, he said:

"It involves a question of principle as to whether or not the English court should retain the control of its own procedure and the proceedings that are before it. I have no doubt that the answer to be given to that question is that the English court...

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