Going European: California S.B. 1241. Employee protection for choice of law and choice of court.

Thank you Cozen O’Connor for alerting me. California’s Senate Bill 1241 was signed into law at the end of September. It will apply to employment contracts entered into, modified, or extended on or after 1 January 2017.

The Bill will feature in a forthcoming article that I am co-authoring with Jutta Gangsted. I have not (yet) studied the preparatory work in detail however the Bill immediately calls for comparative analysis with the EU’s’ approach to this particular ‘protected category’: what is a labour (employment) contract; how does ‘primarily resides and works in California’ compare with ‘habitually carries out his work’ and ‘domicile’; when exactly is a contract ‘modified’ (on this see for the EU, Nikiforidis). The starting point of both the California and the EU rules is the same: employees cannot be considered to really consent to either choice of law or choice of court hence any clause doing same will be subject to mandatory limitations.


(Handbook of) European Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016. Chapter 2, Heading, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.5.

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JASTA: Hard cases make bad law. Awful cases even worse law.

It is important at the outset to clarify terminology. A variety of statements, papers and position papers on JASTA, include the doctrine of ‘State immunity’ to either reject or support the Act. The Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law, P-T Stoll (2011) defines State Immunity as:

“State immunity protects a State and its property from the jurisdiction of the courts of another State. It covers administrative, civil, and criminal proceedings (jurisdictional immunity), as well as enforcement measures (enforcement immunity). It reflects the sovereign equality of States as a main pillar of the contemporary international legal order. State immunity is closely related to but distinct from diplomatic immunity and the immunity of heads of States as well as the immunity of international organizations”.

This definition already shows the many levels of ‘immunity’ and the potential for confusion. The immunity at stake in JASTA is jurisdictional immunity. At the core of this immunity lies its procedural character. Immunity from jurisdiction does not mean that the subject enjoying it, is not bound by the law. States are evidently bound to apply international law. They and their agents and representatives are also bound to apply local law. Immunity from jurisdiction simply means that States cannot be pursued by the ordinary courts and tribunals of other States.

State immunity is seldom included in Treaties. It is considered to be part of customary international law. One or two Treaties have tried to codified it (e.g. the 1972 Basel Convention; and the United Nations Convention on Jurisdictional Immunities of States and Their Property, adopted on 2 December 2004) however these Treaties do not have many signatories. Anglo-Saxon jurisdictions such as the United States and the United Kingdom have a purpose-made Act that specifies how State immunity (and its limited exceptions) are to be applied on their soil. Civil law countries tend not to have such Act.

The existence of jurisdictional immunity of the State was confirmed by the International Court of Justice in its judgment of 3 February 2012 in Germany v Italy. Here, the ICJ noted (at 56)

Although there has been much debate regarding the origins of State immunity and the identification of the principles underlying that immunity in the past, the International Law Commission concluded in 1980 that the rule of State immunity had been “adopted as a general rule of customary international law solidly rooted in the current practice of States” (Yearbook of the International Law Commission, 1980, Vol. II (2), p. 147, para. 26).

The Court considers that the rule of State immunity occupies an important place in international law and international relations. It derives from the principle of sovereign equality of States, which, as Article 2, paragraph 1, of the Charter of the United Nations makes clear, is one of the fundamental principles of the international legal order. (at 57)

And ibidem

Exceptions to the immunity of the State represent a departure from the principle of sovereign equality.

‘Sovereign equality’ lies at the core of the principle of State immunity. In one of the pivotal early cases on the doctrine, The Schooner Exchange v McFaddon (1812), Justice Marshall of the United States Supreme Court emphasised the functional character of the principle. Other States sovereigns, their bodies and their agents need to be unencumbered in the pursuit of their mission. Just as the home nation expects its sovereign and its representatives to be treated in such way in other nations.

National courts in ordinary are not equal to the sovereign’s status and often diplomatic missions, which is exactly why those activities should not be hampered by law suits having to be entertained in local courts.

It may at first sight seem as if the doctrine of State immunity, like many century old concepts, surely ought not to stand in modern society. In 1951, Professor Sir Hersch Lauterpacht QC called State immunity an essentially insignificant and artificial problem (Lauterpacht, 1951). He supplemented his thoughts with a proposal to all but abolish the immunity of foreign States before domestic courts. In 1988, Professor (now emeritus) Christoph Schreuer published a volume on ‘recent developments’ in State immunity (Schreuer, 1988) in which he demonstrated that, defying Sir Hersch’s predictions, State immunity continued to exist. Now, nearly 30 years after that latter volume and a full 65 years following prof Lauterpacht’ s article, State immunity continues to exercise legislators and the judiciary worldwide, with increased attention to the citisens’ (including corporations) rights  of access to justice.

The boundaries and implications of State immunity are more than ever challenged. States and State extensions (public private partnerships; autonomous public undertakings; privatised utilities with public interest duties; State-funded and /or State run corporations…) play an increasingly relevant role in today’s integrated global economies.

Privatisation, outsourcing, and the general trend in many jurisdictions to downsize the government apparatus, means that in recent years more than ever before, boundaries between ‘the State’ and ‘the private sector’ have become increasingly blurred. Yet in litigation, both at the jurisdictional and at the enforcement stage, the conceptual difference between State parties involved in litigation, and ‘commercial’, private parties, continues to exist.

The increasing presence of ‘the State’(in the broad sense) in general economic life has led to a need for renewed statutory and judiciary response to issues as diverse as vulture funds litigation involving sovereign debt, enforcement of arbitral proceedings against States (and similar entities), …

Italian and Belgian courts were among the first to distinguish, in the application of a principle of sovereign immunity, between States acting iure imperii, and acting iure gestionis. The difference being that in the latter, the State pursues commercial activities just like companies and individuals and, the theory goes, they should therefore not enjoy immunity from jurisdiction.

The limited exceptions to state immunity such as in the case of acta iure gestionis may suggest that State immunity faces un unstable path. In 2012, as noted, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) supported state immunity by ruling that Germany could benefit from the principle to avoid paying damages for war crimes and violation of ius cogens (Germany v. Italy). A year later, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) was less favourable by stating that an absolute interpretation of the principle violates article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) (Oleynikov v. Russia). However that latter case concerned the iure gestionis exception: The case concerned a Russian national who complained about the refusal by the Russian courts to examine his claim concerning the repayment of a loan to the Trade representation of North Korea. The Court held that the limitation of Mr Oleynikov’s right of access to court had pursued the legitimate aim of promoting good relations between States through the respect of national sovereignty. However, it concluded that the Russian courts had failed to examine whether the nature of the transaction underlying the claim was of a private law nature and to take into account the provisions of international law in favour of restrictive immunity.

The point about State immunity from jurisdiction is that it operates blindly. It can only fulfil its function if it is entirely blind to the merits of the underlying case. Except if the case might conceivably involve commercial activities of the State concerned, a court should simply not entertain the case at all. This is all the more relevant in cases which involve topical international relations issues, such as in particular the fight against international terrorism. By lifting that procedural bar, JASTA makes sovereign States, including those of the European Union, subject to the full weight of American civil procedure, including pre-trial discovery, trial by jury, attorneys fees etc. Exactly the kind of distraction which Justice Marshall would have called an unjustified and unhelpful complication in Sovereign States pursuing their business, as States.

A unilateral change to the theory and practice of sovereign immunity such as proposed by JASTA, in my view does not reflect international law on the issue. It would undermine the very foundation of international diplomacy and law. I believe European nations would be well advised to protest against it, and to protest loudly.

There is no such thing as ‘sovereign immunity-light’. From the moment the principle is eroded, even for what seems a good or justified cause, it is damaged beyond repair.



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Essent 2.0. The CJEU surprisingly does distinguish. Support for renewable, ‘green’ energy not entirely carte blanche.

Excuse the attempt at pun in the title (which readers may have even missed. ‘Green’ v carte ‘Blanche’. It’s Thursday, and these are busy weeks). Apologies also to the readers who are new to the debate. The legality of support schemes for renewable energy  EU law has occupied mine and others’ mind for a little while now. One may want to refer eg to my paper on the Vindkraft et al judgment or to various postings on this blog. Specifically, for the latter, my post on the AG’s Opinion in Essent 2.0, case C-492/14., judgment issued today.

Bot AG had opined, very very reluctantly, that the Court’s case-law meant that Flanders could indeed reserve the benefit of the free distribution of electricity produced from renewable energy sources solely to generating installations directly connected to the distribution systems located in Flanders, thereby excluding generating installations located in other Member States.

The Court itself has now distinguished its own case-law: the EU has not harmonised the national support schemes for green electricity; this means that it is possible in principle for Member States to limit access to such schemes to green electricity production located in their territory. However the Court’s sympathy is now limited to schemes that support producers only. Green energy support schemes, whose production costs seem to be still quite high as compared with the costs of electricity produced from non-renewable energy sources, are inherently designed in particular to foster, from a long-term perspective, investment in new installations, by giving producers certain guarantees about the future marketing of their green electricity (at 110, with reference to Vindkraft).

However it is not the purpose of the Flemish scheme to give direct support to producers of green electricity. Rather, the free distribution of green electricity constitutes a financial advantage conferred primarily on the supplier of such electricity, which may, in certain circumstances, depending notably on the sale price which the consumer is charged by the supplier for his electricity, to a certain extent and indirectly also benefit the consumer (at 112).

Such a support mechanism offers no certainty that the economic advantage thus obtained for suppliers will ultimately actually and essentially be required to benefit producers of green electricity, particularly the smallest local generating installations which the Flemish Region claims to have wanted to support, which are not both producers and suppliers (at 113).

The Court is not game to assist the AG with his call for an explicit recognition of the potential to use discriminatory measures within the context of mandatory requirements (the implications of Cassis de Dijon). That is a pity, but not a surprise.

Overall, the Court’s judgment is a welcome safeguard to its more open-ended sympathy for renewable energy support schemes. Those who challenge such schemes in future, know what to do. They need to show that there is no certainty that the economic advantage obtained for suppliers will ultimately actually and essentially be required to benefit producers of green electricity, as opposed to distributors or consumers.

Next-up: a reversal of T-351/02 Deutsche Bahn?



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Environmental due diligence (met in casu) is clearly part of BIT requirements. Allard v Barbados.

Thank you Govert Coppens for alerting me to the PCIA award‘s publication. I had reported earlier on this case in which  the Canadian owner of an eco-tourist facility in Barbados sued the Government of Barbados for an alleged breach of the full protection and security provision (among other provisions) in the Canada- Barbados bilateral investment treaty. Peter Allard argues in his claim that Barbados breached its treaty obligations by failing to enforce its domestic environmental laws, which he alleges led to the environment being spoilt and a loss of tourist revenues at his eco-resort.

The Tribunal is careful not to phrase the case as a pioneering case or a case in any way anything but run of the mill. This is evident from its very consideration (at 53) that ‘underlying the claims is a fundamental factual disagreement as to whether the Claimant has suffered loss or damage as a result of any actions or inactions of Barbados.’

This subsequently leads the Tribunal into what is effectively peer review of parties’ opposing expert reports on variety in fish and bird species, salinity, the health of crabs, etc., coming down in favour of Barbados: no convincing case of deterioration was made by claimant. One must bear in mind that the burden of proof lies with the latter. Next the Tribunal concluded that, even if it had found that there was a degradation of the environment at the Sanctuary during the Relevant Period (which it did not), it would not have been persuaded that such degradation was caused by any actions or inactions of Barbados.

The Tribunal further found that, being aware of the environmental sensitivities of the Sanctuary, Barbados took reasonable steps to protect it (at 242). It formulates Barbados’ BIT duties here as being a duty of care, not strict liability. It then undertook due diligence of the steps Barbados had taken to address known environmental concerns for the area and concluded (at 249) that ‘Barbados’ approach in addressing the Sluice Gate and general pollution issues at the Sanctuary as part of its governance of the entire area does not fall short of what was appropriate and sufficient for purposes of the duty of due diligence required by Article II(2)(b) of the BIT.


This tribunal was clearly not in a law-making mood but that arguably does not matter. The analysis it undertakes unequivocally and matter of factly establishes that countries’ indifference (quod non in casu) to take steps necessary to contain and remedy environmental degradation are a clear breach of BITS’ core requirements.


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Neither extraterritoriality questions nor WTO concerns unsettle the CJEU. Animal testing ban applies outside EU.

The last part of this title is a bit of a stretch, apologies: soundbite beats nuance. I reported earlier on the High Court’s referral to the CJEU in the Cosmetics Regulation case, C-592/14 . The Court held last week, 21 September. Much like in C-366/10, the emissions trading /aviation case, the Court was unimpressed with accusations of extraterritoriality (‘territory’ is not discussed in the judgment) and does not even flag WTO concerns (Bobek AG had, and simply suggested this is an issue that solely lies with the WTO itself to resolve).

Referring to the need to interpret the Regulation with a view to its object and purpose, the Court insists that in particular to avoid easy circumvention of the Regulation, data obtained from animal testing carried out outside the EU, cannot be employed for the marketing of cosmetics in the EU, even if those tests had to be performed so as to meet the regulatory requirements of third countries.

Of course in WTO jargon, this recalls the discussion of non-product incorporated production processes and -methods (n-PR PPMs) however the Court is more concerned with regulatory efficiency.


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Kaynes v BP PLC. A good Canadian illustration of forum non conveniens to shareholder pursuit of non-disclosure.

With many conflict of laws classes fresh underway, it is good to be reminded of the classics. Forum non conveniens was at issue in Kaynes v BP, at the Court of Appeal for Ontario. There is a pending class action in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas. The class in that proceeding includes current plaintiff and other Canadian investors who purchased BP securities on the NYSE.

The judgment has ample and concise background, please refer to it for same. The Court of appeal has now lifted a stay, previously put in place on forum non conveniens ground, in light of changed circumstance. The U.S. District Court judge ruled that as the moving party and his proposed Canadian class were members of the class represented by the lead plaintiffs, he was not entitled to now assert a separate class action based upon a claim that the lead plaintiffs had not pursued. Second, the U.S. District Court judge ruled that the moving party’s claim was time-barred under the Ontario Securities Act. Plaintiff and other members of his proposed class are free to pursue individual claims in the U.S. District Court (not already represented in the class action) based on Ontario securities law, subject to any defences BP may advance, including a limitations defence. (Note that the US court therefore holds limitations to be part of the lex causae, not lex fori).

Since the US court do not claim exclusive jurisdiction over the litigation, and given that if a case were to go ahead in the US, it would be subject to Ontario law, the stay was lifted.

The case is a good illustration that forum non conveniens is live and evolving, not static.


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Bot AG in Zulfikarpašić: Are notaries ‘courts’ and do they issue ‘judgments’?

In Zulfikarpašić Case C-484/15, Bot AG opined on 8 September. At issue is the intepretation of ‘court’ and ‘judgment’ in the European enforcement order Regulation. Mutatis mutandis therefore the case has implications for most other EU private international law instruments, which employ similar terms. In all of these Regulations, the terms ‘court’ and ‘judgment’ are under- or not at all defined.

The question was submitted in the context of a dispute between Ibrica Zulfikarpašić, a lawyer established in Croatia, and Slaven Gajer, who is also domiciled in Croatia, regarding the certification as a European Enforcement Order, of a writ of execution issued by a notary based on an authentic document.  The referring court essentially inquires whether a notary who, in accordance with Croatian law, has issued a definitive and enforceable writ of execution based on an authentic document has the power to certify it as a European Enforcement Order where it has not been opposed. If the answer is no, the referring court asks whether a national court can carry out that certification where the writ of execution concerns an uncontested claim.

Article 4(1) of Regulation 805/2004 defines ‘judgment’ as ‘any judgment given by a court or tribunal of a Member State, whatever the judgment may be called, including a decree, order, decision or writ of execution, as well as the determination of costs or expenses by an officer of the court’. Article 2(a) of the Brussels I Recast Regulation now includes exactly the same definition. Yves Bot himself summarised the CJEU’s case-law on the notion of ‘judgment’ in the Brussels I Regulation in Gothaer. He reiterates that Opinion here and I should like to refer readers to my earlier summary of the Opinion in Gothaer.

After a tour de table of the various opinions expressed ia by the EC and by a number of Member States, the Advocate General submits that the concept of ‘court’ should be interpreted, for the purposes of Regulation No 805/2004, as covering all bodies offering guarantees of independence and impartiality, deciding on their own authority by a judgment which, first, was or may be subject to an exchange of arguments before being certified as a European Enforcement Order and, second, may be challenged before a judicial authority (at 108). A functional approach, therefore (at 109).

Advocate General Bot submits therefore that an enforcement title such as a writ of execution issued by a notary based on an authentic document constitutes a judgment within the meaning of Article 4(1) of Regulation No 805/2004, provided that the notary with power to issue that writ adjudicates, in the exercise of that specific function, as a court, which requires him to offer guarantees as to his independence and impartiality and to decide on his own authority by a judgment which, first, was or may be subject to an exchange of arguments before being certified as a European Enforcement Order and, second, may be challenged before a judicial authority. 

Whether these conditions are fulfilled is for the national courts to assess.

This Opinion and the eventual judgment by the Court will also be relevant for the application of the Succession Regulation, 650/2012. In matters covered by that Regulation, notaries throughout the EU have an important say and may quite easily qualifies as a ‘court’. Bot AG refers to the Regulation’s definition of ‘court’ at 71 ff of his current Opinion.


European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading Chapter 6, Heading 6.2.1.


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