Russia – Contractual penalty can exceed the total value of the contract

Time to read: 5 min

The Russian law allows the parties to agree on recovery of contractual penalty for failure by the parties to fulfill contractual obligations.

Below are some typical examples of provisions that stipulate contractual penalty:

In the event of untimely delivery of the Goods under the Contract the Buyer shall be entitled to claim penalties in amount of 0,1 (zero point one) percent from the total value of untimely delivered Goods for each day of delay.

In the event of untimely payment for the Goods under the Contract the Seller shall be entitled to claim penalties in amount of 0,1 percent from the total value of untimely paid Goods for each day of delay.

The Civil Code of Russia (art. 333) allows the court to decrease the amount of penalty if such amount of penalty is disproportionate to the consequences of breach of contractual obligations, with that the court shall be entitled to decrease penalty only if the debtor files a motion with the request to decrease such excessive amount of penalty.

The decrease of penalty determined by the contract and subject to payment by the person who conducts business activities is allowed only in exceptional cases, if it is proved that the recovery of penalty in the amount stipulated by the contract can lead to receipt of the unjustified profit by the creditor.

In practice the parties file motions with the court of first instance with the request to decrease penalty with reference to art. 333 of the Civil Code and the court usually decreases the amount of penalty at its discretion.

In a recent case considered by the Supreme Court of Russia dated 29.05.2018 (case #A43-26319/2016) the Supreme Court ruled that the imposition of penalty even in the amount exceeding the total value of the contract was justified provided that the debtor failed to file a motion with the court of first instance with the request to decrease such penalty with reference to art. 333 of the Civil Code.

In this case the customer ordered the contractor to produce a pressure vessel. The price of such works of the contractor amounted to 2.700.000 rubles. The parties agreed that the pressure vessel will be produced by the contractor till 30.01.2015. The contractor produced the pressure vessel only on 01.03.2016.

The contract stipulated that in case of violation of terms of performance of works the contractor will pay to the customer a fixed fine in the amount of 5% from the price of works that the contractor failed to perform in time for each violation as well as penalty in the amount of 0,3% from the price of works that the contractor failed to perform in time for each day of delay starting with the 4th day of delay.

As a result, the customer demanded that the contractor pays penalty in the amount of 3.355.170 rubles.

The court of first instance ruled in favor of the contractor and ordered that the client shall pay the amount of penalty in full since the contractor failed to provide evidence that confirmed due fulfillment of the contract by the contractor, or that the contractor failed to perform its obligations in time due to circumstances that were out of his control. With that the contractor also failed to dispute the amount of penalty and failed to file a motion on application of art. 333 of the Civil Code.

The appeal court changed the ruling of the court of first instance and decreased the amount of penalty to 326.781 rubles based on its conclusions that the customer abused its rights by including in the contract the unfair penalty provisions.

The Cassation Court agreed with conclusions of the Court of Appeal, but the Supreme Court dismissed the rulings of both the Cassation Court and Court of Appeal and the decision of the court of first instance remained in force.

The Supreme Court based its decision on the fact that the contractor failed to file a motion with the request to decrease the amount of penalty and apply art. 333 of the Civil Code in the court of first instance. Therefore, the Court of Appeal had no right to decrease the amount of penalty at its own initiative.

The latest conclusions of the Supreme Court confirm that the contractual penalty can exceed the total value of the contract and the courts are not allowed to decrease such excessive amount of penalty at its own initiative.

Thus, if you have any dispute in Russia, please ensure that your company is duly represented in state commercial courts, since the failure of the parties to appear in court of first instance and file respective motions might lead to serious negative consequences that the failing party might not be able to cure in the courts of appeal.

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Alexander Katzendorn
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