TOT and TOP v Vodafone. An awkward emphasis on the potential for submission in deciding a stay for related cases.

In Top Optimized Technologies SL (A Company Incorporated Under the Laws of Spain) & Anor v Vodafone Group Services Ltd & Ors [2021] EWHC 46 (Pat) Smith J is asked to stay proceedings on the basis of Article 30 Brussels Ia’s related actions rule.

Three sets of proceedings are pending: one in Madrid; two in the UK. Parties, even some of them are of similar corporate blood, are not the same. Hence an Article 29 lis alibi pendens application is not possible. Arguments advanced at 39 ff in favour of a stay, are in the main, the same facts and matters being traversed (with an immediate indication of Smith J that the applicable law being different counts against, there being a ‘danger in overstating the overlap’); the danger of relitigating earlier proceedings elsewhere, and of consequential double recovery.

Smith J at 40 ff is in favour of what he calls the ‘wide approach’ to A30 (unlike a more narrow approach under A29 and incidentally under A45), to which I can subscribe. At 45 he sums up his reasons for declining the stay which of course are largely discretionary. However, among them is one oddity: at 45(4):

Moreover, this is a case where Vodafone has avoided – entirely properly – the jurisdiction of the Spanish courts by invoking the exclusive jurisdiction clauses in favour of England and Wales. Vodafone could have submitted to the jurisdiction of the Spanish courts under Article 26, but instead elected to invoke Article 25. As a result, proceedings involving all relevant parties (Vodafone and Huawei) and so eliminating any risk of irreconcilable judgments have not been possible. No criticism can be made of Vodafone in this: but, conversely, it seems to me perverse now to prevent the progression of the Second UK Proceedings in circumstances where the fragmentation of the originally constituted Madrid Proceedings against Huawei and Vodafone has occurred at Vodafone’s insistence. (emphasis in the original)

This echoes the findings of Lord Briggs in Vedanta, that the potential for submission carries a lot of weight in ultimate jurisdictional decisions. I am not convinced Brussels Ia supports this.

Geert.

European Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.15.2 (para 2.521 ff)

 

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