No big surprises in Dutch Shell Nigeria / Royal Dutch Shell ruling

Postscript/2015: Shell’s arguments in appeal (in Dutch) on the specfic issue of jurisdiction, may be found here

As reported earlier, Shell’s top holding has been hauled before a Dutch court by a Dutch environmental NGO (Milieudefensie), seeking (with a number of Nigerian farmers) to have the mother holding being held liable for environmental pollution caused in Nigeria. Judgment came yesterday and generally is quite comforting for Shell (and other holding companies in similar situations).

The court stuck to its decision to join the cases, hence allowing Shell Nigeria to be pursued in the Dutch Courts, together with the holding company (against which jurisdiction was easily established under the Brussels I Regulation).  On this point, one imagines, Shell might appeal.

The court held against application of the Rome II Regulation for temporal reasons and did therefore not entertain any (unlikely) options in that Regulation which may  have led to Dutch law: the events which gave rise to the damage occurred before the entry into force of that Regulation. The Court therefore applies lex loci damni. If I am not mistaken, prior to Rome II, The Netherlands applied a more or less complex conflicts rule, not necessarily leading to lex loci damni, neither to lex loci delicti commissi, which was the rule in most EU Member States prior to the entry into force of the Rome II Regulation.

Nigerian law applied and any route to apply Dutch law was rejected.  Incompatibility with Dutch ordre public, for instance, was not withheld. Nigerian law running along common law lines, the court ran through negligence in tort, applied to environmental cases, leading amongst others to the inevitable Rylands v Fletcher. The  court found that the damage occurred because of sabotage, which under Nigerian law in principle exhonerated Shell Nigeria. Only for two specific instances of damage was liability withheld, for Shell Nigeria had failed to take basic precautions.

The conditions of Chandler v Cape (2012) to establish liability for the holding company, were not found to be met in the case at issue. The court did not establish a specific duty of care under Nigerian law (with the loop to the English common law) for Royal Dutch Shell (RDS), the mother company. A general CSR committment was not found not to alter that.

No doubt to be continued in various forms of appeal.

Geert.

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