Office Depot v Holdham et al. Lis alibi pendens in follow-on cartel damages suit. Delay in the Swedish proceedings crucial factor in High Court’s rejection of a stay

in [2019] EWHC 2115 (Ch) Office Depot BV et al v Holdham SA et al, the High Court in August (I had promised posting soon after the Tweet. That did not quite happen) held on issues of lis alibi pendens (and, alternatively, a stay on case management grounds) in a follow-on cartel damages suit arising from the European Commission’s cartel finding in the envelopes market. That’s right: envelopes. Cartel cases do not always involve sexy markets. But I digress (and I also confess to finding stationary quite exciting).

Sir Geoffrey Vos’ judgment deals with the fate of the Office Depot claimants’ follow-on proceedings in England against certain Bong (of Sweden) corporate defendants, after the Bong parties had commenced Swedish proceedings for negative declarations as to their liability. In March 2019 the relevant Swedish court said in effect that Article 8 Brussel I a was not engaged so that the Swedish Bong proceedings for negative declarations could only proceed against the locally domiciled Office Depot company, which was Office Depot Svenska AB, but not the non-Swedish Office Depot entities. Parties at the time of Sir Geoffrey’s decision (Swedish followers may be able to enlighten us on whether there has been a decision in the meantime; at 23 the expected date is mentioned as ‘the autumn’) were awaiting a certiorari decision by the Swedish Supreme Court.

CJEU C–406/92 The Tatry of course is discussed, as is CDC. Sir Geoffrey also discussed C-129/92 Owens Bank, in particular Lenz AG’s Opinion (the CJEU did not get to the part of the Opinion relevant to current case). Discussion between the parties, at Sir Geoffrey’s request, focused on the issue of the judge’s discretion under lis alibi pendens for related actions, rather than on whether or not the actions are related (it was more or less accepted they are; see ia at 43 ff).

At 46 ff the Court then exercises its discretion and finds against a stay, on the basis in particular of the expected length of the Swedish proceedings: at 54: ‘the grant of a stay would be contrary to justice in that it would delay unreasonably the resolution of proceedings that can only be tried in England and already relate to events many years ago‘, and at 48: ‘The stage in the Swedish proceedings is a long way behind these. It will be between one and two and a half years before jurisdiction is resolved there, two courts already having refused jurisdiction. It will be perhaps between three and five years before the substantive litigation in Sweden is resolved, if it ever gets off the ground.

Swedish courts do not tend to get used for torpedo actions. Yet the swiftness of English court proceedings yet again comes in to save the day (or indeed, scupper the stay).

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.12.1

 

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