Florian Mohs [*]
Basel, January 2004
I. INTRODUCTION AND TERMINOLOGY
Although the United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods (hereinafter: CISG) uses the term "avoidance" of contract, whereas the UNIDROIT Principles of International Commercial Contracts (hereinafter: UNIDROIT Principles) use the term "termination" of contract, both sets of rules deal with the same situation: one party has lost its interest in the contract due to a fundamental impairment in the performance of the other party and puts an end to the contract. In contrast to this situation, the UNIDROIT Principles only use the term "avoidance" of contract in the context of a remedy available to the aggrieved party in the event of an invalid contract on grounds of mistake, fraud, threat or gross disparity, see Art. 3 UNIDROIT Principles. According to Art. 29 CISG, "termination" under the Convention means cancellation of the contract by (mere) agreement of the parties. The following primarily provides a comparative overview of Arts 81 and 82 CISG and Arts 7.3.5 and 7.3.6 UNIDROIT Principles. On that basis, this essay addresses the issue of whether the UNIDROIT Principles provisions can be used to help interpret or supplement the CISG articles on the issue of the effects of avoidance of contract.
II. GENERAL EFFECTS OF AVOIDANCE UNDER CISG AND TERMINATION UNDER UNIDROIT PRINCIPLES
1. Art. 81 CISG is virtually identical to Arts 7.3.5(1) to (3) and 7.3.6(1) UNIDROIT Principles
The general effects of avoidance under CISG are virtually the same as of termination under UNIDROIT Principles:
|-||Firstly, both parties are released from their obligations under the contract, Art. 81(1) first sentence CISG/Art. 7.3.5(1) UNIDROIT Principles.
|-||Secondly, possible damages claims are not precluded, Art. 81(1) first sentence, second part CISG/Art. 7.3.5(2) UNIDROIT Principles.
|-||Thirdly, dispute settlement clauses are not affected, Art. 81(1) second sentence CISG/Art. 7.3.5(3) UNIDROIT Principles.
|Fourthly, even other clauses which operate after avoidance or termination, respectively, are not affected, Art. 81(1) second sentence, second part CISG/Art. 7.3.5(3) second part UNIDROIT Principles.
|Finally, under both sets of rules either party may claim restitution of what has been performed, Art. 81(2) first sentence CISG/Art. 7.3.6(1) first part of the sentence UNIDROIT Principles. If both parties have received anything under the contract, restitution will take place concurrently, Art. 81(2) second sentence CISG/Art. 7.3.6(1) second part of the sentence UNIDROIT Principles.|
Apart from these similarities, there are, however, small differences in the language of these rules. The language of Art. 7.3.5(1) UNIDROIT Principles which reads "[...] obligation to effect and to receive future performance" (emphasis added) is more specific than the text of Art. 81(1) CISG which simply states that the parties are released "from their obligations". This difference in language raises two questions which will be analysed in the following.
2. The UNIDROIT Principles do not release from obligations of performance only
The term performance might, at a first glance, suggest a restrictive interpretation in a way that the parties are not released from all of their obligations but from their obligations of performance only. Under this viewpoint, the parties would not be released from ancillary obligations, e.g., the right of sole distribution. However, the structure of the provision shows that the obligations which continue to exist are exhaustively identified by paras. (2) and (3) of Art. 7.3.5 UNIDROIT Principles. Thus, as does the CISG the UNIDROIT Principles, in general, release the parties from all obligations under the contract except with respect to damages, dispute settlement and other clauses which operate (even) after avoidance. Especially with regard to the provision of para. (3), whether or not a clause qualifies under the prerequisites, e.g., the duty not to divulge confidential information or the duty to restrain from entering into competition, survive termination, is a question of contractual interpretation on a case-by-case basis.
3. Restitution under CISG or UNIDROIT Principles and domestic law
The second difference in language is the inclusion of the term 'future performance' in the UNIDROIT Principles provision which, practically, points to the crucial question as to whether the seller, on termination, may claim repossession of goods under his title. In other words, the question is whether avoidance causes the contract to cease to exist with the effect that, under certain domestic laws, ownership in the goods will automatically return to the seller. In legal doctrine, this issue is usually addressed by focusing on the concepts of retroactivity or prospectivity. According to the retroactive approach, the contract is void ab initio (ex tunc), which means that the parties are placed in the situation they would be in had the contract never been concluded. By contrast, under the prospective approach, the contract remains in existence with the restitutionary obligations being the reverse of the original obligations of performance. This question of principle should be left open because one can disregard the theoretical questions, but should address the practical consequences.
a. Remedy-orientated solution under CISG
It is the author's opinion that one must distinguish two issues: on the one hand, the question is whether the seller may under domestic law claim repossession of the goods under his right to title. On the other hand, the question arises as to whether the seller may under domestic law claim for compensation or restitution of rights other than that to possess the goods.
The first question can be answered in the affirmative, because there is no danger of contradiction with principles of the Convention. Rather, the principle of restitution under the Convention (returning the goods to the seller) is reinforced by domestic law that recognize a replevin action where foreclosure against the buyer or insolvency of the buyer occurs. The same is true in the situation had the parties contractually agreed on a retention of title clause under which the seller retains ownership in the goods until full payment has been made. This solution is in accordance with Art. 4(b) CISG, which provides that the Convention is not concerned with questions as to the effect of avoidance on the property in the goods sold.
Yet, the second question is to be answered in the negative, because the questions concerning compensation for loss of use and compensation of expenses spent on the goods are settled exhaustively by the CISG itself. Firstly, with respect to compensation for loss of use, Art. 84 CISG applies. This Article grants the seller a claim for all benefits which the buyer derived from the goods. Secondly, although the Convention does not expressly address the issue of compensation for expenditure, general principles of the Convention can be used to fill this internal gap in accordance with Art. 7(2) CISG by way of a damages claim. In the case of a retention of title clause the parties shall not be deemed to have implicitly derogated from the application of the CISG regime regarding restitution.
b. Prospective approach under UNIDROIT Principles
Termination under UNIDROIT Principles has prospective effect. This becomes apparent when comparing the remedies termination and avoidance within the UNIDROIT Principles. According to Art. 3.17(1) UNIDROIT Principles, "[a]voidance takes effect retroactively" which means that the contract should be regarded as never being concluded. By contrast, in the case of termination of contract, the UNIDROIT Principles do not provide for retroactive effect, but rather refer to "future performance". This difference shows that termination of contract under UNIDROIT Principles only has prospective effect.
Now, one may argue that the UNIDROIT Principles prospective approach is an international solution, and should thus be applied to the CISG as well. However, as shown above in the discussion on CISG it is not necessary to use the UNIDROIT Principles solution to interpret the CISG on this issue, since the question of principle can be left open and the practical consquences are answered by the Convention itself.
III. RESTITUTION OF GOODS AND RISK OF LOSS
1. Parties bound to restitution
Both sets of rules provide for restitution of what has been performed under the contract, Art. 81(2) CISG/Art. 7.3.6(1) first sentence UNIDROIT Principles. Under the CISG, partial restitution is allowed expressly, whereas under the UNIDROIT Principles, this possibility must be deduced from the text.
2. Bar of avoidance or allowance in money
The main difference in concept is that, according to Art. 82(1) CISG, the Convention, in principle, bars the buyer from avoiding the contract if he cannot make restitution of the goods whereas the UNIDROIT Principles treat this situation as a question of liability, Art. 7.3.6(1) second sentence UNIDROIT Principles. The CISG approach is based on a Roman law principle and was already antiquated at the time the Convention had been drafted. The UNIDROIT Principles approach is modern and, more importantly, sensible and has thus been implemented into the Principles of European Contract Law  and into various domestic laws of contract by reform statutes (e.g., Netherlands, Germany). However, the CISG provisions must be applied de lege lata and thus cannot be overruled by means of interpretation using a totally different concept, such as that of the UNIDROIT Principles. Even in situations governed, but not expressly settled by the CISG, the principles of the Convention and not the principles of the UNIDROIT Principles are to be used to fill any gaps. However, due to the wide range of exceptions to the bar of avoidance under Art. 82(2)(a) to (c) CISG and the objective equalization of benefits according to Art. 84(2) CISG, restitution under the two set of rules will quite often produce the same or, at least, a similar result. Furthermore, one should give broad application to the exceptions of para. (2) and thereby limit the bar of Art. 82(1) CISG. In the case of an agreement to mutual restitution, Art. 82 is excluded by implication. In the case of a contract including the supply of services, which qualifies under Art. 3(2) CISG as a sales contract, restitution should be made by way of monetary reimbursement of the value of the services based on Art. 84(2) CISG.
IV. CONTRACTS EXTENDING OVER A PERIOD OF TIME
Art. 7.3.6(2) UNIDROIT Principles  provides that "if performance of the contract has extended over a period of time and the contract is divisible, [...] restitution can only be claimed for the period after termination has taken effect." However, a party can also, contrary to the misleading language, avoid with respect to the (past) defective performance. The counterpart provision of the Convention is Art. 73 CISG  which, however, does not address the question of avoidance of contracts extending over a period of time in general, but does address the most relevant situation in international sales law practice, i.e., the contract for delivery of goods by installments. The first step is to avoid the defective delivery only, Art. 73(1) CISG. If, however, the aggrieved party has good grounds to conclude that a fundamental breach will occur with respect to future installments it can, according to Art. 73(2) CISG, avoid on the grounds of anticipatory breach. Even under CISG, restitution will not take place for deliveries already made if the installments are independent, Art. 73(3) CISG. The CISG and the UNIDROIT Principles provisions will, however, quite often produce the same or, at least, similar results.
The CISG provision has a narrower sphere of application. And for this specific case, the CISG text is more detailed and clearer than the UNIDROIT Principles text. Consequently, the UNIDROIT Principles cannot help in the interpretation of the CISG on the issue of avoidance of contracts extending over a period of time. In the case of a contract extending over a period of time but not qualifying as an installments contract, e.g., a contract calling for delivery of machines and on-site installation by seller's personnel which falls under the Convention according to Art. 3(2) CISG, a general right of avoidance has to be established in accordance with the principles of Art. 73 CISG.
In a comparison of the rules on restitution of both the CISG and the UNIDROIT Principles, one discovers that both sets of rules correspond with regard to the fact that restitution takes place on avoidance or termination of the contract, respectively, to the fact that partial restitution is possible, on the question of what contractual provisions survive avoidance of the contract, and that, if both parties had already received performance, restitution must be made concurrently. However, they do not correspond on the legal mechanism to apply in situations where it is impossible for the avoiding party to return what it had received under the contract: the CISG generally bars the aggrieved party from avoiding the contract whereas the UNIDROIT Principles grants the other party allowance in money.
In conclusion, one cannot successfully argue that the UNIDROIT Principles can be used to help interpret or supplement the CISG on the issue of effects of avoidance of contract.
* Research Assistant at the University of Basel, Switzerland.
1. Cf. Art. 49 CISG for the buyer´s right to avoid the contract, Art. 64 CISG for the seller´s right of avoidance, and Arts 81 to 84 CISG for the effects of avoidance.
2. Cf. Arts 7.3.1 to 7.3.6 UNIDROIT Principles. But cf. the German translation "Vertragsaufhebung" which equals the German translation of avoidance under CISG; critically to the German language Ernst v. Caemmerer, Internationale Vereinheitlichung des Kaufrechts, Schweizerische Juristen-Zeitung, 257, 264 (1981); Christoph Coen, Vertragsscheitern und Rückabwicklung - Eine rechtsvergleichende Untersuchung zum englischen und deutschen Recht, zum UN-Kaufrecht sowie zu den Unidroit Principles und den Principles of European Contact Law, 210, 211 and at 225, 226 (2003).
3. "Fundamental breach of contract" in CISG terminology and "fundamental non-performance" in UNIDROIT Principles terminology.
4. The remainder of this editorial is based on the assumption that in general there are situations in which the UNIDROIT Principles can be used to help interpret the CISG, see Albert H. Kritzer, General observations, available at <http://www.cisg.law.pace.edu/cisg/text/matchup/general-observations.html>. But cf. Schlechtriem/Schwenzer/Ferrari, Kommentar zum Einheitlichen UN-Kaufrecht - CISG -, Art. 7 para. 59 et seq., 62 (4ed. 2004).
5. On CISG, see Schlechtriem/Leser, Commentary on the UN Convention on the International Sale of Goods (CISG), Art. 81 paras. 8-10 (1st ed. 1998); Schlechtriem/Schwenzer/Hornung, supra note 4, Art. 81 para. 8. On UNIDROIT Principles, see Art. 7.3.5 UNIDROIT Principles Comment 1.
6. On CISG, see Schlechtriem/Leser, supra note 5, Art. 81 para. 10; Schlechtriem/Schwenzer/Hornung, supra note 4, at Vor Artt. 81-84, paras. 7, 7a, 17 and Art. 81 para. 10. On UNIDROIT Principles, see Art. 7.3.5 UNIDROIT Principles Comment 2.
7. On CISG, see Schlechtriem/Leser, supra note 5, Art. 81 para. 10; Schlechtriem/Schwenzer/Hornung, supra note 4, Art. 81 para. 10. On UNIDROIT Principles, see Art. 7.3.5 UNIDROIT Principles Comment 3. Cf. Filanto S.p.A. v. Chilewich International Corp., U.S. Dist. Ct. (S.D.N.Y.), 14 April 1992, CISG-online No. 45 (available at <http://www.cisg-online.ch>), 789 F. Supp. 1229 where the Court held that Art. 81(1) CISG supports the doctrine of severability.
8. On CISG, see Schlechtriem/Leser, supra note 5, Art. 81 para. 10; Schlechtriem/Schwenzer/Hornung, supra note 4, Art. 81 para. 10. On UNIDROIT Principles, see Art. 7.3.5 UNIDROIT Principles Comment 3.
9. Cf. Art. 7.3.5 UNIDROIT Principles Illustration 2. ICC, Case No. 9978/1999, CISG-online No. 708 (available at <http://www.cisg-online.ch>): penalty clauses survive contract avoidance under CISG.
10. For practical relevance, see the CISG cases Usinor Industeel v. Leeco Steel Products, Inc., U.S. District Court (N.D. of Illinois, Eastern Division), 28 March 2002, CISG-online No. 696 (available at <http://www.cisg-online.ch>), reprinted in Internationales Handelsrecht, 237-240 (2003) and Roder Zelt- und Hallenkonstruktionen GmbH v. Rosedown Park Pty Ltd and Reginald R Eustace van Doussa J., FCA (Adelaide, SA), 28 April 1995, CISG-online No. 218 (available at <http://www.cisg-online.ch>).
11. Authorities supporting the retroactive approach under CISG: Bianca/Bonell/Tallon, Commentary on the International Sales Law, Art. 81 note 2.5; Bernard Audit, La vente internationale de marchandises, note 191 (1990); Vincent Heuzé, La vente internationale de marchandises - Droit uniforme, note 426 (2nd. ed. 2000); Claude Samson, La Convention des Nations Unies sur les contrats de vente internationale de marchandises. Etude comparative des dispositions de la Convention et des règles de droit québécois en la matière, 23 Les Cahiers de Droit (1982), 919, 962; Maria Angela Bento Soarez/Rui Manuel Moura Ramos, Les moyens dont dispose l'acheteur en cas de contravention au contrat par le vendeur (autre que le défaut de conformité) dans la Convention de Vienne de 1980 sur les contrats de vente internationale de marchandises , Revue de droit uniforme, 67, 87 (1986); Philippe Kahn, La Convention de Vienne du 11 avril 1980 sur les contrats de vente internationale de marchandises, Revue internationale de droit comparé, 951 978 (1981); cf. Roy Goode, Commercial Law, 933 footnote 35 (2nd. ed. 1995); Mirghasem Jafarzadeh, Buyer's Right to Withhold Performance and Termination of Contract - A Comparative Study Under English Law, Vienna Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods 1980, Iranian and Shi'ah Law, available at <http://cisgw3.law.pace.edu/cisg/biblio/jafarzadeh1.html>, at Part Two § 2.5.1.
12. Cf. Oberster Gerichtshof (Austrian Supreme Court), 29 June 1999, CISG-online No. 483 (available at <http://www.cisg-online.ch>); LG Düsseldorf (German Regional Court), 11 October 1995, CISG-online No. 180 (available at <http://www.cisg-online.ch>); Michael Bridge, The International Sale of Goods, para. 3.44 (1999): "As with termination in English Law, avoidance for breach operates with prospective effect"; Schlechtriem/Leser/Hornung, Kommentar zum Einheitlichen UN-Kaufrecht - CISG -, Vor Artt. 81-84, para. 8 and Art. 81 para. 9 (3rd. ed. 2000); Peter Schlechtriem, Internationales UN-Kaufrecht, para. 330 (2nd. ed. 2003); Ernst v. Caemmerer, Internationale Vereinheitlichung des Kaufrechts, Schweizerische Juristen-Zeitung 257, 265 (1981); Staudinger/Magnus, Kommentar zum Bürgerlichen Gesetzbuch mit Einführungsgesetz und Nebengesetzen, Wiener UN-Kaufrecht (CISG), Art. 81 para. 2 (1999); Bamberger/Roth, Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch, Band 3, Art. 81 para. 4 (2003); Herber/Czerwenka, Internationales Kaufrecht, Art. 81 para. 7 (1991); Enderlein/Maskow/Strohbach, Internationales Kaufrecht, Art. 81 note 1 (1991); Bertrand Botzenhardt, Die Auslegung des Begriffs der wesentlichen Vertragsverletzung im UN-Kaufrecht, 61 (1998); Ulrich Ziegler, Leistungsstörungsrecht nach dem UN-Kaufrecht, 195 (1995); Botschaft betreffend das Wiener Übereinkommen über Verträge über den internationalen Warenkauf of 11 January 1989, at 235.51; Honsell/Weber, Kommentar zum UN-Kaufrecht, Art. 81 paras. 1, 2 and 4 (1997). See also Liu Chengwei, Remedies for Non-performance: Perspectives from CISG, UNIDROIT Principles & PECL, avaibable at <http://cisgw3.law.pace.edu/cisg/biblio/chengwei.html>, at § 10.6.
13. Schlechtriem/Schwenzer/Hornung, supra note 4, at Art. 81 Rn. 9 et seq., 9d: The language of Art. 81(2) CISG cannot be used to argue the one or the other way. See also Rainer Hornung, Die Rückabwicklung gescheiterter Verträge nach französischem, deutschem und Einheitsrecht - Gemeinsamkeiten, Unterschiede, Wechselwirkungen, 109, 110 (1998); Christoph Coen, supra note 2, at 216; Markus Krebs, Die Rückabwicklung im UN-Kaufrecht, 52, 53 (2000). Cf. G. H. Treitel, Remedies for Breach of Contract, A Comparative Account, 383 (1988).
14. But see Schlechtriem, supra note 14, at para. 330, who argues for the prospective approach and states that, from the viewpoint of the domestic law regarding movable goods, this question, in terms of private international law, qualifies as an "incidental question" (cf. Peter M. North and James J. Fawcett, Cheshire and North´s Private International Law, 46 et seq. (13th ed. 1999); another common term is "preliminary question", cf. Martin Wolff, Private International Law, 206 (2nd ed. 1950)) and should be answered by recourse to the CISG.
15. Cf. Usinor Industeel v. Leeco Steel Products, Inc., U.S. District Court (N.D. of Illinois, Eastern Division), 28 March 2002, CISG-online No. 696 (available at <http://www.cisg-online.ch>), reprinted in Internationales Handelsrecht, 237-240 (2003): third party creditor prevailed over seller under domestic law; Roder Zelt- und Hallenkonstruktionen GmbH v. Rosedown Park Pty Ltd and Reginald R Eustace van Doussa J., FCA (Adelaide, SA), CISG-online No. 218 (available at <http://www.cisg-online.ch>): seller prevailed in buyer's insolvency. Cf. also Herbert Bernstein and Joseph Lookofsky, Understanding the CISG in Europe, §6-25 (2nd. ed. 2003). In Europe, according to Art. 4 of the Directive 2000/35/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 June 2000 on combating late payment in commercial transactions, each member state's contract law has to provide for rules that accept and enforce retention in title clauses.
16. Cf. ICC, Case No. 9978/1999, CISG-online No. 708 (available at <http://www.cisg-online.ch>), where the Tribunal held that "reference to the rules of unjust enrichment of the applicable domestic law is neither necessary nor permissble". But see Daniel Friedrich Berg, Die Rückabwicklung gescheiterter Verträge im spanischen und deutschen Recht, Eine rechtsvergleichende Untersuchung unter besonderer Berücksichtigung des Einheitsrechts, 82 (2002), according to whom the concurrence should be resolved by applying the domestic law solution.
17. See Botschaft betreffend das Wiener Übereinkommen über Verträge über den internationalen Warenkauf of 11 January 1989, at 235.53.
18. See Art. 3.17 UNIDROIT Principles Comment 1; Christoph Coen, supra note 2, at 224.
19. On the drafting process, see UNIDROIT Study L - Doc. 35, A&D 1986 II, Sn 8 f; Rainer Hornung, supra note 18, at 110, 111; Christoph Coen, supra note 2, at 251.
20. The same approach shall apply to the Principles on European Contract Law, see Francesco G. Mazzotta, Commentary on CISG Article 81 and PECL Article 9:309, available at <http://cisgw3.law.pace.edu/cisg/text/peclcomp81.html>.
21. On CISG, see Schlechtriem/Schwenzer/Hornung, supra note 4, Art. 82 para. 11 et seq. On UNIDROIT Principles, see Art. 7.3.6 UNIDROIT Principles Comment 1.
22. On CISG, see Schlechtriem/Schwenzer/Hornung, supra note 4, at Vor Artt. 81-84 para. 14 et seq. On UNIDROIT Principles, cf. Christoph Coen, supra note 2, at 246.
23. On the Principles on European Contract Law, see Francesco G. Mazzotta, supra note 24, at § 2.
24. Cf. Peter Schlechtriem, Some Observations on the United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods, in The Frontiers of Liability, Vol. 2 (Peter Birks ed. 1994): "There are good reasons to advocate an entirely different solution for the problem of restitution or inability of the avoiding party to restitute, namely, treating this as a problem of responsibility of the parties for performance of their obligation to restitute and not as one of a bar to avoidance."
25. See Art. 9:309 of the European Contract Principles; cf. Francesco G. Mazzotta, supra note 24.
26. See Art. 6:265,269,271,272 of the Nieuw Burgerlijk Wetboek (Civil Code of the Netherlands).
27. See § 346(2), (3) BGB (German Civil Code).
28. E.g. by holding that Art. 82(2)(b) CISG also covers improvements in the goods as a result of the examination, see Bundesgerichtshof (German Federal Supreme Court), 25 June 1997, CISG-online No. 277 (available at <http://www.cisg-online.ch>). E.g. by interpreting 'lack of conformity' within Art. 82(2)(c) CISG as covering also third party claims based on intellectual property, see Florian Mohs, The Restitution of Goods on Avoidance of the Contract for Lack of Conformity within the Scope of Art. 82(2)(c) CISG: On the Different Treatment of Defects in Quality, Third-Party Intellectual Property Rights, and Defects in Title as Elements of the Remedies for the Buyer, Review of the Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods (CISG) (2002-2003); in German: Florian Mohs, Die Vertragswidrigkeit im Rahmen des Art. 82 Abs. 2 lit. c CISG, Internationales Handelsrecht, 59-66 (2002).
29. See Peter Schlechtriem, supra note 14, at 323. Cf. Oberster Gerichtshof (Austrian Supreme Court), 29 June 1999, CISG-online No. 483 (available at <http://www.cisg-online.ch>).
30. For the operation of Art. 7.3.6(2) UNIDROIT Principles, see Comment 3; Rainer Hornung, supra note 18, at 176, 177; critically Christoph Coen, supra note 2, at 246 et seq.
31. For the operation of Art. 73 CISG, cf. Schlechtriem/Leser/Hornung, supra note 5, at Art. 73 paras 1-41. But see Liu Chengwei, supra note 14, at 10.6, according to whom the UNIDROIT Principles do not provide a counterpart to Art. 73 CISG. Cf. on the European Contract Principles Christopher Kee, Remedies for breach of contract where only part of the contract has been performed: Comparison between provisions of CISG (Articles 51, 73) and counterpart provisions of the Principles of European Contract Law, available at <http://www.cisg.law.pace.edu/cisg/text/peclcomp51.html>.
32. But see Art. 51 CISG which addresses the case of partial deliveries although the contract called for performance at once.
33. Cf. Daniel Friedrich Berg, supra note 16, at 160.