Arbitration – Non-signatory Affiliates

In Chloro Controls India (P) Ltd. v. Severn Trent Water Purification Inc., (2013) 1 SCC 641, it was observed that ordinarily, an arbitration takes place between persons who have been parties to both the arbitration agreement and the substantive contract underlying it. English Law has evolved the “group of companies doctrine” under which an arbitration agreement entered into by a company within a group of corporate entities can in certain circumstances bind non-signatory affiliates. The test as formulated, is as follows:

       “Though the scope of an arbitration agreement is limited to the parties who entered into it and those claiming under or through them, the courts under the English Law have, in certain cases, also applied the “group of companies doctrine”. This doctrine has developed in the international context, whereby an arbitration agreement entered into by a company, being one within a group of companies, can bind its non-signatory affiliates or sister or parent concerns, if the circumstances demonstrate that the mutual intention of all the parties was to bind both the signatories and the non-signatory affiliates. This theory has been applied in a number of arbitrations so as to justify a tribunal taking jurisdiction over a party who is not a signatory to the contract containing the arbitration agreement.

       This evolves the principle that a non-signatory party could be subjected to arbitration provided these transactions were with group of companies and there was a clear intention of the parties to bind both, the signatory as well as the non-signatory parties. In other words, “intention of the parties” is a very significant feature which must be established before the scope of arbitration can be said to include the signatory as well as the non-signatory parties.”

       The court held that it would examine the facts of the case on the touchstone of the existence of a direct relationship with a party which is a signatory to the arbitration agreement, a ‘direct commonality’ of the subject matter and on whether the agreement between the parties is a part of a composite transaction:

       “A non-signatory or third party could be subjected to arbitration without their prior consent, but this would only be in exceptional cases. The court will examine these exceptions from the touchstone of direct relationship to the party signatory to the arbitration agreement, direct commonality of the subject matter and the agreement between the parties being a composite transaction. The transaction should be of a composite nature where performance of the mother agreement may not be feasible without aid, execution and performance of the supplementary or ancillary agreements, for achieving the common object and collectively having bearing on the dispute. Besides all this, the Court would have to examine whether a composite reference of such parties would serve the ends of justice. Once this exercise is completed and the court answers the same in the affirmative, the reference of even non-signatory parties would fall within the exception afore discussed.

       Explaining the legal basis that may be applied to bind a non-signatory to an arbitration agreement, it was held thus:

       “The first theory is that of implied consent, third party beneficiaries, guarantors, assignment and other transfer mechanisms of contractual rights. This theory relies on the discernible intentions of the parties and, to a large extent, on good faith principle. They apply to private as well as public legal entities.

       The second theory includes the legal doctrines of agent-principal relations, apparent authority, piercing of veil (also called “the alter ego”), joint venture relations, succession and estoppels. They do not rely on the parties’ intention but rather on the force of the applicable law.” Cheran Properties Ltd.v. Kasturi and Sons Ltd., (2018) 6 SCC 413.

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