Finding SHELLter. The High Court on CSR and applicable law in Okpabi.

Where does one look first? : as I reported last week, Ms Kiobel is now taking her US case to The Netherlands (this case essentially involves human rights), at a time when Shell is still pursued in the Netherlands by Milieudefensie, in a case involving environmental pollution in Nigeria.

That latter case now is being mirrored in the High Court in London in Okpabi v Shell [2017] EWHC 89 (TCC). The dual proceedings are squarely a result of the split listing of Shell’s mother company, thus easily establishing jurisdiction in both The Netherlands and London, under Article 4 Brussels I Recast.

The only preliminary issue which the High Court had to settle at this early stage was whether Shell’s holding company, established in the UK, can be used as anchor defendant for proceedings against Shell Nigeria (Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria – SPDC). It held that it could not. The questions dealt with are varied and listed as follows:

1. Do the claimants have legitimate claims in law against RDS?

2. If so, is this jurisdiction the appropriate forum in which to bring such claims? This issue encompasses an argument by RDS that it is an abuse of EU law for the claimants to seek to conduct proceedings against an anchor defendant in these circumstances.

3. If this jurisdiction is the appropriate forum, are there any grounds for issuing a stay on case management grounds and/or under Article 34 of the Recast Regulation in respect of the claim against RDS, so that the claim against SPDC can (or should) proceed against SPDC in Nigeria?

4. Do the claims against SPDC have a real prospect of success?

5. Do the claims against SPDC fall within the gateway for service out of the jurisdiction under paragraph 3.1(3) of CPR Practice Direction 6B?

This issue requires consideration of two separate sub-issues, namely (a) whether the claims against RDS involve a real issue which it is reasonable for the Court to try; and (b) whether SPDC is a necessary or proper party to the claims against RDS.

6. Is England the most appropriate forum for the trial of the claims in the interests of all parties and for the ends of justice?

7. In any event, is there a real risk the Claimants would not obtain substantial justice if they are required to litigate their claims in Nigeria?

 

In detailed analysis, Fraser J first of all seems to accept case-management as a now established route effectively to circumvent the ban on forum non conveniens per Owuso (see Goldman Sachs and also reference in my review of that case, to Jong and Plaza). Over and above case-management he refers to potential abuse of EU civil procedure rules to reject the Shell Nigeria joinder. That reference though is without subject really, for the rules on joinders in Article 8 Brussel I recast only apply to joinder with companies that are domiciled in the EU – which is not the case for Shell Nigeria.

Of specific interest to this blog post is Fraser J’s review of Article 7 Rome II: the tailor made article for environmental pollution in the determination of lex causae for torts: in the case at issue (and contrary to the Dutch mirror case, which is entirely being dealt with under residual Dutch conflicts law) Rome II does apply to at least part of the alleged facts. See here for my background on the issue. That issue of governing law is dealt with at para 50 ff of the judgment.

For environmental pollution, plaintiff has a choice under Article 7 Rome II. Either lex damni (not appealing here: for Nigerian law; the judgment discusses at some length on the extent to which Nigerian law would follow the English Common law in issues of the corporate veil), or lex loci delicti commissi. This, the High Court suggest, can only be England if two questions are answered in the affirmative (at 79). The first is whether the parent company is better placed than the subsidiary to avoid the harm because of its superior knowledge or expertise. The second is, if the finding is that the parent company is better placed, whether it is fair to infer that the subsidiary will rely upon the parent. With reference to precedent, Fraser J suggest it is not enough for the parent company simply to be holding shares in other companies. (Notice the parallel here with the application of ATS in Apartheid).

The High Court eventually holds that there is no prima facie duty of care that can be established against the holding company, which would justify jurisdiction vis-a-vis the daughter. At 106, the Court mirrors the defendant’s argument: it is the Nigerian company, rather than the holding, that takes all operational decisions in Nigeria, and there is nothing performed by the holding company by way of supervisory direction, specialist activities or knowledge, that would put it in any different position than would be expected of an ultimate parent company. Rather to the contrary, it is the Nigerian company that has the specialist knowledge and experience – as well as the necessary licence from the Nigerian authorities – to perform the relevant activities in Nigeria that form the subject matter of the claim. … It is the specialist operating company in Nigeria; it is the entity with the necessary regulatory licence; the English holding company is the ultimate holding company worldwide and receives reports back from subsidiaries.

 

Plaintiffs have been given permission to appeal. Their lawyers have indicated to rely heavily on CJEU precedent, particularly T-343/06 Shell v EC. This case however concerns competition law, which as I have reported before, traditionally has had a theory on the corporate veil more easily pierced than in other areas. Where appeal may have more chance of success, I believe is in the prima facie character of the case against the mother company. There is a thin line between preliminary assessment with a view to establishing jurisdiction, and effectively deciding the case on the merits. I feel the High Court’s approach here strays too much into merits territory.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 8, Heading 8.3.

 

 

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

  1. Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: