In La Micro Group (UK) Ltd & Anor v La Micro Group, Inc & Ors EWHC 1405 (Ch) 1st Claimant, LA Micro Group (UK) Ltd (“LA (UK)”), is an English company. It was incorporated in 2004 and acquired by the 2nd Claimant, Mr David Bell, a British citizen resident in England. It now has two issued shares, one in the name of Mr Bell, and one in the name of the 3rd Defendant, Mr Arkadiy Lyampert. Mr Bell and Mr Lyampert are also the two directors of the company. The substantive question raised in the action is as to the beneficial ownership of LA (UK). The position of the Claimants is that Mr Bell and Mr Lyampert are not only the legal owners of the two issued shares but also the beneficial owners, and that they are each entitled to 50% of the distributable profits of the company by way of dividends. Mr Lyampert’s position is the same, although he has indicated that he does not intend to take any active part in the proceedings. All defendants are resident in California.
This preliminary issue is one of jurisdiction given claimants seek permission to serve out of jurisdiction. There are a variety of proceedings in California: disputes between Mr Frenkel and Mr Lyampert in 2010 led to Mr Frenkel and some of LA Inc’s other employees, including Mr Gorban, leaving LA Inc and starting a competing business called IT Creations, Inc (“ITC”). In the words of the Court of Appeal of California, “a profusion of lawsuits followed”.
It is i.a. argued by defendants that it would an abuse of process for LA Inc to relitigate the same issues as were decided by that judgment, even if the CAL judgments do not strictly give rise to res judicata given the differences between parties.
At 49 Nugee J holds on that particular issue that the relevant CAL Judgment did not decide anything about whether LA Inc had lost its rights to a beneficial interest in LA (UK), and the findings of fact on which the Claimants rely were not necessary to the English court’s decision on any of the matters that were in issue.
Of specific interest to the blog is the forum non conveniens application at 58 ff., with at 68 ff consideration of whether one of the pending CAL proceedings is the mirror image of the English ones, which would count heavily in a forum non consideration given the English law’s preference for the whole issue to be submitted to one tribunal. At 78 Nugee J sums up the core issue:
The choice is between (i) allowing the English proceedings to continue so that a definitive answer can be given to one discrete question (has LA Inc lost its beneficial interest?) which will then enable the Californian court to proceed on a correct understanding of what has been decided in England rather than on what is said to be a misapprehension; or (ii) requiring the Claimants, unless they are willing to abandon their claims, to go to California to argue matters that on the view I take are matters of English law and largely concern acts taking place in England.
At 77 Nugee J expresses strong support for Gleichlauf:
(T)here are many advantages in questions of law being decided by a home court rather than a foreign court. Evidence and cross-examination is not required, which is likely to make resolution of the point both quicker and cheaper. And the court is familiar with its own law, in a way that it is not with foreign law, which means that the court’s resolution of the issues is likely to be both easier and more soundly based. Other things being equal, I have no doubt that it is preferable, both in terms of practical convenience and in terms of the ends of justice, for questions of English law to be argued in England as questions of law rather than for them to be argued in California as questions of fact on expert evidence (and possibly, although I have no evidence as to whether this would be the case, before a jury).
He concludes at 92:
England is the most appropriate forum for those matters to be decided; but even in relation to the declarations in respect of Mr Lyampert’s share, leaving the parties to litigate in California has a mix of advantages and disadvantages and there is not in my judgment sufficient to displace England as the forum in which the dispute can most suitably be tried for the interests of all the parties and for the ends of justice.
Nugee J does not therefore give Gleichlauf preponderant weight ab initio. Yet all other things being equal, Gleichlauf in this case pushed back a finding of forum non.