Easygroup v Beauty Perfectionists. No huge make-over for acquired EU law on trademark jurisdiction.

In Easygroup Ltd v Beauty Perfectionists Ltd & Ors [2021] EWHC 3385 (Ch) defendants argue that even though the proceedings were initiated prior to IP completion day (31 December 2020), the English courts no longer have jurisdiction to grant a pan-EU injunction or other remedies in respect of alleged infringement of EU trade marks (“EUTMs”).  The suggestion is that lack of such jurisdiction post 1 January 2021 is a consequence of the relevant statutory UK instrument, the Trade Marks Amendment etc (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.

The jurisdictional impact  of the EU Trademark Regulation 2017/1001 was previously considered i.a. in another Easygroup case which I discuss here. In current case, defendants argue that as a result of (potentially an omission in) the 2019 UK Statute, the High Court no longer is an ‘EU Trade Mark Court’ and, that EU Regulation 2017/1001 was not part of EU retained law under section 2(1) of the EU Withdrawal Act 2018. Their submission is based entirely on statutory construction, involving ia reading of the EU Withdrawal Agreement Act 2020 and its alleged impact on Withdrawal Agreement rights.

[48] ff Flaux C takes a much shorter approach to siding with claimants, holding [50] that the clear intention of Article 67 of the Withdrawal Agreement, which has full legal effect, is that the High Court should retain the same jurisdiction under EU Regulation 2017/1001 as it had before IP completion day. He finds support in a more common sense reading of the various Statutes in the context of Brexit with arrangements (as opposed to the potential of a no-deal Brexit).

The application for strike-out was therefore dismissed.

I do not know whether appeal has been sought. The case is a good illustration of the many layers of complexity provoked by the presence of the Withdrawal Agreement (with UK commitment to provide direct effect in the same circumstances as would apply under EU law), the Trade and Co-operation Agreement, and all the statutory provisions designed to cater for both a deal and a no-deal Brexit.

Geert.

 

Khalifeh v Blom Bank. On implied choice of law and consumer contracts (including ‘direction of activities’ in Rome I.

Khalifeh v Blom Bank SAL [2021] EWHC 3399 (QB) is the second High Court judgment in the space of a few weeks to involve Lebanese Banks and the application of the protective regime for consumers in EU private international law. (See earlier Bitar v Banque Libano-Francaise).

Foxton J explains why there is such activity: difficult financial conditions faced by Lebanese banks and their customers at the current time, and the practical impossibility of transferring foreign currency out of Lebanon, caused acute anguish for those with foreign currency accounts in Lebanese banks. Understandably they have explored every avenue open to them in an effort to access their hard-won savings.

Jurisdiction would seem not to be in dispute (presumably given the presence of non-exclusive choice of court in a general agreement), applicable law is. Even in consumer contracts, Article 6 Rome I allows parties to the contract to chose applicable law – except such choice must not deprive the consumer of the protection of the mandatory elements of the law that would apply had no choice been made: that ‘default law’, per Article 6(1) Rome I, is the law of the consumer’s habitual residence.

Whether choice of law has been made is to be determined in accordance with Article 3, which proscribes that choice of law must be  either nominatim, or ‘clearly demonstrated’ by the circumstances of the case. The latter is often referred to as ‘implicit’ choice of law although there is nothing truly implicit about it: choice of law cannot be made happenstance, it must have been made clearly (even if not in so many words). [47] ff the judge considers whether ‘implicit’ choice has been made, referring to Avonwick,  and holds [66] that there was, namely in favour of Lebanese law. He concludes this as a combined effect of

a jurisdiction clause in a related, general agreement which he found to be exclusive [63] in favour of Beirut; I have to say I do not think the judgment engages satisfactorily with the argument that this hybrid clause itself is questionable under the lex causae (including consumer law) that would have to apply to it;

the express reference to an agreement to comply with and facilitate the enforcement of identified provisions of Lebanese law; and

the express choice of Lebanese law in a closely related and interwoven contract.

Clearly some of this analysis is fact-specific and subjective however in my view the lex causae element of hybrid choice of court has more beef to the bone.

As for the issue of ‘activities directed at’ the UK, this is discussed [68] ff. First up is an interesting discussion on the relevant time at which the habitual residence of the consumer has to be considered. In light ia of CJEU Commerzbank, which presumably was not available at the time of the discussion, I would suggest the conclusion [73] that the temporal element needs to be fixed at the very beginning, to avoid see-sawing and dépeçage, may need revisiting.

In terms of the actual directing of activities, Pammer /Alpenhof of course is discussed as is Emrek. Having discussed the evidence, the conclusion [105] ff is that there was no direction of activities.

As a result, the remainder of the judgment deals with the substantive issues under Lebanese law.

I do not know whether permission to appeal has been sought. There are sections in the judgment that in my view would merit it.

Geert.

EU private international law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.9.2.7, 2.270 ff; Heading 3.2.4, Heading 3.2.5.

 

No horsing around. Den Bosch court of appeal on the non-recognition of US punitive damages.

Many thanks Haco van der Houven van Oordt for flagging an (anonymised) judgment by the Den Bosch Court of Appeal, in which it refused to recognise the punitive damages element of a US (Tennessee) judgment. Damages had been awarded after a horse trainer based in The Netherlands, who had been tasked to look after and train the horse of the US based claimant, had subsequently been tasked to sell the horse and in doing so hid part of the sale price from the owner. Half a million dollar was awarded, of which exactly half in punitive damages.

The judge follows the Gazprom criteria for recognition and enforcement in The Netherlands and only objected to the punitive damages element. A bid by claimants (heirs of the meanwhile deceased owner) to argue recoverability of a chunk of the punitive damages slice, arguing that it was compensation for lawyers’ fees in the US proceedings, failed: the Dutch held that costs compensation are not ordinarily part of the punitive element of the damages and that transcripts of the US judgment and proceedings certainly did not reveal any trace of that argument.

Not an extraordinary judgment. But an instructional one.

Geert.

 

Kazakhstan Kagazy v Zhunus. Again on qualification and a rather untidy application of Rome II in the context of an assets tracing claim.

Kazakhstan Kagazy Plc & Ors v Zhunus & Ors [2021] EWHC 3462 (Comm), sees Henshaw J unpicking the follow-up to a trial of applications and claims made by the Claimants for the purpose of enforcing an unsatisfied judgment for approximately US$300 million, handed down in December 2017.

The relevant part of the complex judgment, for the purposes of the blog, is a ‘tracing claim’: claimant argue that monies stolen from them by one of the defendants can be traced or followed into a variety of assets said to be held by companies within Cypriot trusts structures for the benefit of said defendant and his family. What is being traced are shares in Exillon, an oil company which Mr Arip developed after he fled Kazakhstan for Dubai. The proceeds of the shares went partially into the purchase of real estate, with another (substantial) part remaining liquid in a Swiss bank account.

Defendants submit that the tracing claim is governed by Kazakh law, and that that law does not recognise the concept of tracing. The judge, with respect, and perhaps he was echoing submissions, takes a rather unstructured approach to the conflict of laws analysis from which the judgment subsequently never recovers. Many first instance judgments in the UK intuitively start by quoting a relevant section from Dicey (whose 16th ed I am told might be out end of 2022), and then somehow engineer the analysis around it. In the case at issue, the Dicey rule that is zoomed in on [85], is disputes over real property, which are subject to lex situs (lex rei sitae). At [88] the judge then refers to Akers v Samba in which the Supreme Court, albeit at the jurisdictional level, held “the situs or location of shares and of any equitable interest in them is the jurisdiction where the company is incorporated or the shares are registered”. [89]:

It would follow that, insofar as relevant, questions of title to the Exillon shares, whose proceeds (a) were used to purchase the Properties and (b) remain in the form of the £72 million in the BJB account in Switzerland, would be likely to be governed by Manx law, Exillon having been incorporated in the Isle of Man.  A possible alternative would be English law on the basis that the shares were traded on the London Stock Exchange.  The parties have in any event agreed that, so far as relevant to these claims, Manx law is the same as English law.

[91] some role for Kazakh law is suggested to still exist when considering whether the English law preconditions for a tracing claim are met.  ‘It is generally a pre-condition of tracing in equity that there be a fiduciary relationship which calls the equitable jurisdiction into being’. [92] The law applicable to a cause of action or issue determines whether a person is required to hold property on constructive or resulting trust, hence it is necessary to consider whether duties imposed by the relevant foreign law are to be regarded as fiduciary.

Only in an afterthought [94] does the judge consider the lex causae governing unjust enrichment, equitable claims and negotiorum gestio, per Rome II as retained in UK law (and in Dicey). [The judgment is not in fact clear on when the claim was introduced and therefore might be subject to acquired as opposed to retained EU law].

The lex causae for the qualification of the current claims (proprietary restitution) as one of these entries in Rome II [96] is matter of factly presented as English law. [99] the judge dismisses the relevance of the succinct Rome II analysis for, harking back to his first reference to Dicey, the fundamental nature of the Claimants’ claim in the present case is held to be a proprietary one hence Dicey’s lex situs rule is said to apply without a need to consider Rome II.

Surely the right order is to qualify the claim, using autonomous EU interpretation, under (retained) Rome I cq Rome II and with reference to CJEU authority- with of course some of the recent qualification issues following CJEU Hrvatske Sume thrown in. Subsequently to only consider the English common law to the extent statutorily retained EU law does not govern the issue. The approach in the judgment is unsatisfactory and in that respect joins Fetch.AI Lrd & Anor v Persons Unknown Category A & Ors [2021] EWHC 2254 (Comm) , which Amy Held and Matthias Lehmann discuss critically this morning.

Geert.

J v H Limited. Pikamae AG emphasises the ‘safety valve’ of disciplining fellow European judges’ incorrect decisions on the scope of application of EU private international law.

I am hoping to tackle some of the pre-Christmas queue this week, kicking off with the Opinion (no English version available) of Pikamae AG in C-568/20 J v H Limited. The case concerns the enforcement of a 2019 decision of the England & Wales High Court [I believe that judgment is Arab Jordan Investment Bank Plc & Anor v Sharbain [2019] EWHC 860 (Comm). The dates do not quite correspond (6 days of) but the amounts and line of argument do].

Clearly the UK were still a Member State at the time. The English decision was based, in turn, on two Jordanian judgments of 2013. It had rejected, on the basis of the English common law (judgments issued outside the EU are not subject to EU recognition and enforcement rules), the arguments against enforcement in the UK. The judge subsequently issued an Article 53 Brussels Ia certificate.

The issue is not whether a judgment merely confirming a non-EU judgment, may be covered by Article 53 Brussels Ia. CJEU Owens Bank has already held they cannot (see Handbook, 3rd ed. 2021, 2.573). The issue is rather whether, exequatur having been abandoned in Brussels Ia, arguments as to whether the judgment in the State of origin be at all covered by Brussels Ia, may be raised by way of an Article 45 objection to recognition and enforcement.

CJEU Diageo Brands, among others, has confirmed the narrow window for refusal of recognition on the basis of ordre public. The AG suggests wrong decisions on the scope of application of BIa, leading to incorrect A53 certificates, may fall within that category. Far from upsetting the principle of mutual trust, he suggests it is a necessary ‘safety valve’, a “soupape de sécurité » (40) which assist with said mutual trust. The AG qualifies the opinion by suggesting the issuing of an A53 certificate for a judgment that merely enforces an ex-EU judgment, is a grave error in the scope of application of the Regulation.

Should the CJEU confirm, discussion of course will ensue as to what are clear errors in the scope of application, or indeed in the very interpretation of Brussels Ia.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed 2021, Heading 2.2.17.1.

Mahmudov v Sanzberro. Addressing libel tourism under Brussels Ia with a debatable reading of eDate’s Centre of Interests.

Mahmudov & Anor v Sanzberro & Ors [2021] EWHC 3433 (QB) tackles the issue of libel tourism. As Collins Rice J puts it [3]

underlying the contest of law is a contest of two mainstream policies embodied in modern defamation law: on the one hand, the need for the law to keep up with the borderless realities of the internet, and on the other the need for international libel to be dealt with by the courts best able fairly to do so (or, to put it less neutrally, to prevent ‘libel tourism’).

The case is held under Brussels Ia for the claim was introduced on 31 December 2020, ‘IP completion day’.  Parties mostly seem at loggerheads over the implications of CJEU C-509/09 eDate. Claimants suggest eDate establishes a stand-alone full jurisdictional gateway for the Member State where the aggrieved has his or its centre of interests – CoI. Defendant claims [19]

there is still a binary choice, as per Shevill: to sue either (a) where a defendant is domiciled or (b) where a completed tort (the harmful event) occurred. The effect of eDate, they say, is that claimants taking the second route in their CoI country can now get global relief rather than being limited to compensation for harm arising in that individual state. CoI is not jurisdictional in the pure sense of introducing a freestanding basis for bringing an action somewhere; it is jurisdictional only to the limited or secondary (but nevertheless important) extent of the nature and quantum of the relief that may be sought.

Parties oddly seem in agreement that Shevill v Presse Alliance (No.2) [1996] AC 959 reaffirmed ([11] in Mahumdov]

that what constituted the ‘harmful event’ was to be determined by the national court applying its own substantive law. In other words, the preliminary jurisdictional question for the High Court in a libel case brought against a non-domiciled defendant was whether a claimant could show to the requisite standard that all the components of a tort actionable in the UK were present

I find that debatable to say the least, and in fact that consensus has an important impact on the judge’s final conclusion, which rejects CoI as a stand-alone gateway: [28] the judge sides with the defendants for the claimant’s reading would imply ‘an autonomous meaning of the ‘place where the harmful event occurred’ ‘. The latter, many might argue, must be the implication of the CJEU’s overall application of Brussels Ia. At [34] Napag Trading is offered in support however the judge I feel in Mahmudov should  have made a clearer distinction (as the judge did in Napag Trading) between the EU-governed jurisdictional gateway for tort, and the (England and Wales) governed Civil Procedure Rules test for a ‘good arguable case’. As I note in my review of Napag Trading, these CPR rules may still form a formidable procedural hurdle, however properly distinguishing between them is important, among others for costs reasons.

Geert.

Ask me no questions, and I’ll tell you no lies. The CJEU on internet (libel) jurisdiction in Gtflix.

The CJEU held yesterday in Grand Chamber in C-251/20 GtflixTV – for the facts see my initial flag of the case here. I reviewed the Opinion of Hogan AG here. The AG need not have bothered for the Court entirely ignores the Opinion.

The AG had predicted, as had I, that the CJEU would not heed his calls (joining those of plenty of AGs before him) that the Article 7(2) CJEU Bier introduced distinction between Handlungsort and Erfolgort be abandoned or at least curtailed. The CJEU however also dismisses his suggestion that the case at issue, which involves defamation of competitors over the internet, does not engage the Bolagsupplysningen case-law (infringement of personality rights over the internet) but rather Tibor Trans on acts of unfair competition.

I do not see quite clearly in the Grand Chamber’s mention [28] that Gtlix did not request inaccessibility of the information in France: for Gtflix did request retraction.

Instead of qualifying locus damni jurisdiction, the CJEU squarely confirms its faith in the Mosaic consequences of Article 7(2) locus damni jurisdiction. Each court in whose district damage has occurred, will continue to have locus damni jurisdiction even if the claimant requests rectification of the information and the removal of the content placed online in the Handlungsort or centre of interests jurisdiction. Locus damni jurisdiction in my view extends only to the damage occurring in that district (for Article 7(2) determines territorial, not just national jurisdiction), albeit in current, internet related case the CJEU [38] would seem to speak of ‘national’ jurisdiction, linked to accessibility in the Member State as a whole.

Those courts’ locus damni jurisdiction is subject to the sole condition that the harmful content must be accessible or have been accessible in that Member State. Per CJEU Pinckney, an additional direction of activities to that Member State is not required (the recent High Court approach in Mahmudov on which I shall blog shortly, is at odds with that approach nota bene).

Grand Chamber judgments must not only be expected in cases where earlier authority is radically changed or qualified. It can also occur in cases where the CJEU wishes to reconfirm a point earlier made but stubbornly resisted in scholarship and lukewarmly embraced in national court practice.

Geert.

Athena Capital Fund v Secretariat of State for the Holy See. Thank Heavens for jurisdictional mercies (here inter alia involving lex fori prorogati and agency for choice of court).

Athena Capital Fund Sicav-Fis SCA & Ors v Secretariat of State for the Holy See [2021] EWHC 3166 (Comm) features as defendant the Secretariat of State of the Holy See  (not the Holy See itself), and relates to a fraud and embezzlement claim of property in Chelsea, London.

Defendant says that from the perspective of Claimants, the purpose and intention of bringing these proceedings is to try to influence the criminal process in Italy, and/or the publicity emanating from the criminal process.

For its jurisdictional challenge, defendant argues [81] i) The claim was not a “civil and commercial matter” within the meaning of A1(1) BIa; ii) one of the claimants was not a party to the relevant Sale and Purchase Agreement (SPA) and could not rely upon it [this was summarily dealt with [88] by suggesting an amendment of claim] and, more forcefully, (iii) Defendant was not a party to the SPA for the purposes of A25 BIa.

Salzedo J justifiably in my view held [84] that

whether the claim is a civil or commercial matter does not turn on the subjective intentions of the claimant as to the ultimate effect that a claim might have on its interests, but on an objective reading of the claim itself and the relief that it seeks from the court. On that basis, it is a claim for declarations against the Defendant concerning the Defendant’s entry into commercial transactions with the Claimants.

and that the transaction was not entered into by the Defendant in the purported exercise of public powers: [86]

The Transaction was one that any private person could have entered into if it had the requisite funds. Nothing that was essential to the Transaction required sovereign powers to enter it and nothing that the Defendant did or purported to do was in the exercise of public authority.

As for the defendant not being a party to the SPA, the context here is whether a party involved in the signing accepted the SPA and its choice of court as an agent of the defendant. The judge, confirming the parties’ consensus, points out that that agency issue befalls to be addressed by English law. It is not said why that is the case however it is of course the result of the amended A25 – as others before it, however, the court does not complete the lex fori prorogati analysis with the recital 20 in fine mandated renvoi. On the agency issue the judge holds there is a good arguable case that the relevant agent did bind the defendant.

Next [103] ff follows a CPR-heavy discussion on the amendment of the claim form, seeing as the claimants erroneously assumed [120] that BIa was not engaged as the Vatican is not party to Brussels Ia. At [123] the conclusion is that the claim form may be amended and that defendants’ time spent in dealing with the service out issues under the common law (a wasted exercise as BIa applied), may be met in the costs order.

Once the A25 point rejected, there would have been a most narrow window for any kind of stay, yet the defendants try anyways, with [129] a series of abuse and case management arguments. One particularly poignant one is that the proceedings would interfere with a criminal proceeding. After discussion the judge [159] dismisses the idea on the facts, seeing as none of the declarations sought would involve any assertion as to what does or does not amount to criminality as a matter of the law of the Vatican State.

[163] ff discusses the abuse of process issue which the defendants, I understand, presented more or less as being integrated into the criminal procedure element, discussed above. That was wise, for abuse of process, while entertained among others in Vedanta, is arguably noli sequitur in a BIa claim. [Support for the alternative view here was sought [172ff] in Messier-Dowty v Sabena SA[2000] 1 WLR 2040]

The case-management stay proper is discussed 192 ff with reference ia to Municipio, and Mad Atelier. The judge in current case is very aware of not re-introducing through the back door what CJEU Owusu shut the front door on. He summarily discussed the possibility anyway, only to reject it.

An interesting case.

Geert.

Bitar v Banque Libano-Francaise. A reminder that, under (acquired) EU law, one must not be domiciled in the EU for one to ‘direct’ one’s activities here and so trigger the consumer section.

Bitar v Banque Libano-Francaise S.A.L. [2021] EWHC 2787 (QB) discusses whether a Lebanese bank could be considered to have ‘directed’ its activities at the UK under the CJEU Pammer Alphenhof criteria, thus triggering the consumer section of the (acquired) EU Brussels Ia Regulation.

Kent DJ held it had: claimant’s arguments are at [29] ff, purporting to build evidence of a chain of marketing aimed at the expat Lebanese community. They show the importance of information put on websites, often made to look more glamorous by the addition of elements such as links to England and London in particular.  The judge is on point I find where he dismisses the singular relevance of the use of English etc in a world where every Tom Dick and Harry put that on their website. However he does conclude [65]

the website pages to which I have referred which were visible from the United Kingdom do indeed give the impression to a fair-minded observer—and I would say quite a strong impression—that the Bank was interested in obtaining custom from the expatriate Lebanese community in whichever part of the world not insignificant numbers of those who can be treated as falling within that expression were gathered and that in 2014 did include England. 

Geert.

EU private international law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.9.2.7, 2.270 ff

Chowdhury v PZU SA. Domicile for the purposes of the insurance title.

Chowdhury v PZU SA [2021] EWHC 3037 (QB) is worth a brief post on the determination of ‘domicile’ for the purposes of the insurance title of Brussels Ia (the very same Title and provisions which I discuss in Betty Tattersal). Ritchie J discusses whether the claimant was ‘resident’ in England and Wales for despite the insurance section talking of ‘domicile’, the Regulation refers for that notion to the residual rules of the Member States; and in England and Wales, domicile for natural persons, for private international law purposes, is determined by their ‘residence’.

The judge held, having summarised all relevant authority, that the earlier finding of residence absolutely stands [72]:

Claimant was a British citizen, with a British passport, who grew up in Worthing and was educated in England, worked in England, had his parents and family in England, had his friends in England, had rented flats in London, in Earls Court and in Putney, had his benefits paid in England, had his property by way of clothes and personal items in England and kept some of those at his parents’ house in Worthing, in his own room there.

That he gave up his rental accommodation in England was entirely due to him seeking medical treatment in Germany on account of the very tort he is suing for. Clearly that could not dislodge his English residence, despite the most likely temporary impact on physical stays in England.

Geert.

%d bloggers like this: