mardi 5 avril 2011

La Cour supérieure confirme le caractère autonome des lettres de crédit

Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt s.e.n.c.r.l./s.r.l.

L'utilité d'une lettre de crédit provient en grande partie de son caractère indépendant de l'obligation sous-jacente à la dette originale. En effet, les lettres de crédit sont conçues précisément pour éviter au créancier d'avoir à débattre de l'exigibilité de la dette avant de recevoir paiement. La décision récente de l'Honorable juge Louis Lacoursière dans SNC-Lavalin International Inc. c. Royal Bank of Canada (2011 QCCS 1370) illustre bien ce fait.


Dans cette affaire, la Demanderesse recherche l'émission d'une injonction provisoire prohibant à la Défenderesse d'effectuer paiement sous une lettre irrévocable de crédit de l'ordre de 20 000 000$ ("Irrevocable on Demand Performance Bank Guarantee") émise en faveur de la Mise en cause. Cette lettre de crédit avait été émise en vertu de l'article 21 du contrat intervenu entre la Demanderesse et la Mise en cause:
"21 SECURITY FOR COMPANY'S CLAIMS
21.1 Contractor shall provide, at his own cost, a Performance Bond from a First Class international bank, acceptable to Company. Such bond shall be in the form as set out in Appendix J. The Performance Bond shall amount to ten (10) per cent of the prevailing Nominated Contract Price.
21.2 The Performance Bond shall be valid for its full amount until the Completion Certificate is issued, thereafter it shall be reduced to an amount equivalent to five (5) per cent of the prevailing Nominated Contract Price valid until expiry of the Warranty Period according to Art. 23.1 at which point it shall expire unless there remains outstanding warranty services of any kind. If any such warranty services remain to be completed the Performance Bond shall be in force and the value of the bond may upon agreement between Company and Contractor be reduced to an amount equal to the cost of any such warranty services. In such event the Performance Bond shall finally expire upon completion of the last of such warranty services.
Company shall be entitled to make a claim under the Performance Bond when Contractor, in Company's sole opinion, is in default under the Contract, for instance upon failure to pay any amount due to Company under the Contract, failure to extend the validity of the Performance Bond or failure to remedy any defect according to the provisions of the Contract. However, this provision shall not limit Company's right to draw on the Performance Bond, in which case, Contractor shall always have the right to dispute Company's entitlement in this respect.
The Company shall indemnify and hold the Contractor harmless against and from all damages, losses and expenses (including legal fees and expenses) resulting from a claim under the Performance Bond to the extent that the claim was made by the Company in circumstances where it did not have reasonable cause to believe that it was entitled to make such claim under this Article 21.2.
The Company shall return the Performance Bond to the Contractor within 21 Days after the Performance Bond has expired."
                                     [notre soulignement]

Malgré le langage de l'article 21, la Demanderesse fait valoir qu'il ne devrait pas être permis à la Mise en cause de réclamer paiement en vertu de la lettre de crédit puisqu'il existe un différend entre la Demanderesse et la Mise en cause quant à l'exécution des travaux et des paiements.

Le juge Lacoursière refuse l'émission de l'injonction demandée. En effet, il en vient à la conclusion que la Demanderesse n'a pas de droit apparent, la lettre de crédit étant un instrument de paiement distinct et indépendant:
[21] On the basis of the allegations of the Motion, the Court is not satisfied that SNC has an apparent right to the order sought.
[22] First, the terms of the Contract are clear. Qatalum is entitled to claim under the Guarantee when SNC, in Qatalum's sole opinion, is in default under the Contract.
[23] The terms of the Guarantee are compatible with this right of Qatalum in that it provides that RBC undertakes to pay to Qatalum without the latter having to substantiate its demand.
[24] This is the essence of a letter of credit:
" The fundamental principle governing documentary letters of credit and the characteristic which gives them their international commercial utility and efficacy is that the obligation of the issuing bank to honour a draft on a credit when it is accompanied by documents which appear on their face to be in accordance with the terms and conditions of the credit is independent of the performance of the underlying contract for which the credit was issued. Disputes between the parties to the underlying contract concerning its performance cannot as a general rule justify a refusal by an issuing bank to honour a draft which is accompanied by apparently conforming documents. [...]"
Le texte intégral du jugement est disponible ici: http://bit.ly/hXx35o

Référence neutre: [2011] ABD 113

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