Archive for category Conflict of Laws /Private international law

Unilever. Accepting CSR jurisdiction against mother companies not the High Court’s cup of tea.

After  Shell/Okpabi, the High Court has now for the second time in 2017 rejected jurisdiction to be established against the foreign subsidiary (here: in Kenya) using the mother company as an anchor. In [2017] EWHC 371 (QB) AAA et al v Unilever and Unilever Tea Kenya ltd, Unilever is the ultimate holding company and registered in the UK. Its subsidiary is a company registered in Kenya. It operates a tea plantation there. Plaintiffs were employed, or lived there, and were the victims of ethnic violence carried out by armed criminals on the Plantation after the Presidential election in Kenya in 2007. They claim that the risk of such violence was foreseeable by both defendants, that these owed a duty of care to protect them from the risks of such violence, and that they had breached that duty.

Laing J unusually first of (at 63 ff) all declines to reject the case on ‘case management’ grounds. Unlike many of her colleagues she is more inclined to see such stay as ignoring ‘through the back door’ Owusu‘s rejection of forum non conveniens.  I believe she is right. Instead the High Court threw out the case on the basis that the claims, prima facie (on deciding jurisdiction, the Court does not review the substantial merits of the case; a thin line to cross) had no merit. Three issues had to be decided:

i) By reference to what law should the claim be decided? This was agreed as being Kenyan law.

ii) Are the criteria in Caparo v Dickman [1990] 2 AC 605 satisfied? (A leading English law case on the test for the duty of care). The relevance of English law on this issues comes about as a result of Kenyan law following the same Caparo test: as I have noted elsewhere, it is not without discussion that lex fori should apply to this test of attributability. Laing J held that the Caparo criteria were not fulfilled. The events were not as such foreseeable (in particular: a general breakdown in law and order). Importantly, with respect to the holding company and as helpfully summarised by Herbert Smith:

  • the pleaded duty effectively required the holding to ensure that the claimants did not suffer the damage that they suffered, and not merely to take reasonable steps to ensure their safety;
  • the pleaded duty also effectively imposed liability on that holding for the criminal acts of third parties, and required it to act as a “surrogate police force to maintain law and order”; and
  • such a duty would be wider than the duty imposed on the daughter, as the actual occupier of the Plantation, under the Kenyan Occupiers’ Liability Act

At 103, Laing J discussed and dismissed plaintiff’s attempts at distinguishing Okpabi. In her view, like in Shell /Okpabi, the mother’s control is formal control exercised at a high level of abstraction, and over the content and auditing of general policies and procedures. Not  the sort of control and superior knowledge which would meet the Chandler test.

iii) Are the claims barred by limitation? This became somewhat irrelevant but the High Court ruled they were not. (This, under the common law of conflicts, was a matter of lex causae: Kenyan law, and requiring Kenyan expert input. Not English law, as the lex fori).

The case, like Okpabi, is subject to appeal however it is clear that the English courts are not willing to pick up the baton of court of prefered resort for CSR type cases against mother companies.

Geert.

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

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Microsoft (Nokia) v Sony. This battery keeps on going: relatively of arbitration clauses; cartel claims contractual? anchor defendants etc.

The one sorry outcome of [2017] EWHC 374 (Ch) Microsoft (Nokia) v Sony is that by rejecting jurisdiction, the Commercial Court did not have an opportunity to review the application of Rome II’s provisions on applicable law in the case of infringement of competition law.

The following background is by Kirsty Wright, who also alerted me to the case: the claim centred on allegations by Microsoft (who had acquired Nokia of Finland) that the Defendants had caused loss by engaging in anti-competitive conduct relating to the sale of Li-ion Batteries over a period of 12 years. In 2001 Nokia and the Sony Corporation (the mother corporation: with seat outside of the EU) concluded a Product Purchase Agreement for Li-ion Batteries. This agreement contained an English choice of law clause and required any dispute to be resolved by way of arbitration in the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC). Microsoft became the assignee of these rights following its purchase of parts of Nokia in 2013 and therefore could bring claims in contract against Sony Corporation and claims in tort against the other three Defendants. Sony Corporation is a subsidiary of Sony Europe Limited: it is the anchor defendant in this case: none of the corporations other than Sony Europe are domiciled in the EU.

Smith J in a lengthy judgment determined that the agreement between Microsoft and Sony Corporation to arbitrate in the ICC also extended to the parent company Sony Europe. Therefore proceedings against all defendants were stayed in favour of ICC arbitration subject to English law. This required him first of all to hold that under English law, the arbitration agreement (as opposed to, under EU law, for the issue of choice of court: see CDC) extends to non-contractual obligations (infringement of competition law evidently not being part of one’s contractual rights and obligations; see here for a review of the issues; in Dutch I’m afraid: must find time for an EN version) but also that the clause extended to the mother company: hence releasing the jurisdictional anchor.

Microsoft had anticipated such finding by suggesting such finding may be incompatible with EU law: its contention was that the operation of the Brussels I Regulation (Recast) must permit the effective protection of rights derived from competition law, including private law rights of action for infringement, these being rights accorded by EU law, and that an arbitration clause which caused the fragmentation of such rights of action was, for that reason, in breach of EU law (at 76). It made extensive reference to Jaaskinen AG’s call in CDC for the Brussels I Recast to be aligned with Rome II’s ambition to have one single law apply to the ensuing tort. (The jurisdictional regime as noted leads to a need to sue in various jurisdictions).

As I have noted in my review of the CJEU’s judgment, on this point the Court however disagreed with its AG. Indeed while the AG reviews and argues the issue at length (Smith J recalls it in the same length), the Court summarily sticks to its familiar view on the application of (now) Article 7(2) in competition cases; it is the CJEU’s view which the Commercial Court of course upholds.

A great case, extensively argued.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.9.1; Heading 2.2.9; Chapter 4, Heading 4.6.2).

 

 

 

 

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Sinocore International Co Ltd v RBRG Trading: The commercial court on fraus, ordre public and arbitration.

Fraus omnia corrumpit (fraud corrupts all; alternatively formulated as ex turpi causa non oritur actio) is not easily applied in conflict of laws. See an earlier post here.  In Sinocore International Co Ltd v RBRG Trading , the Commercial Court granted permission for the enforcement of a foreign arbitral award despite allegations that the transaction in question had been “tainted” by fraud: this is how the case is summarised by Mayer Brown and I am happy broadly to refer to their overview and analysis.

The Commercial Court’s relaxed attitude is another sign of strong support of the English courts for the New York Convention and its narrow application of ordre public.

An interesting case for comparative conflicts /arbitration classes.

Geert.

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On ‘civil and commercial’, and, again, notaries as courts. The CJEU in Pula Parking.

Issued on the same day as Zulfikarpašić, Pula Parking Case C-551/15 deals with similar core issues, with a few extras thrown in. Pula Parking, a company owned by the town of Pula (Croatia), carries out, pursuant to a decision of the mayor of that town, the administration, supervision, maintenance and cleaning of the public parking spaces, the collection of parking fees and other related tasks. In September 2010, Mr Tederahn, who is domiciled in Germany, parked his vehicle in a public parking space of the town of Pula. Pula Parking issued Mr Tederahn with a parking ticket. Since Mr Tederahn did not settle the sums due within the period prescribed, Pula Parking lodged, on 27 February 2015, with a notary whose office is in Pula, an application for enforcement on the basis of an ‘authentic document’. A notary issued a writ of execution on 25 March 2015, on the basis of that document.  In his opposition, Mr Tederahn put forward a plea alleging that the notary who issued the writ of execution of 25 March 2015 did not have substantive and territorial jurisdiction on the ground that that notary did not have jurisdiction to issue such a writ on the basis of an ‘authentic document’ from 2010, against a German national or a citizen of any other EU Member State.

Does the Brussels I recast apply at all? And does it relate also to the jurisdiction of notaries in the Republic of Croatia?

On the temporal scope of the Brussels I Recast, the Court repeats its (Brussels Convention) Sanicentral (Case 25/79) finding: the only necessary and sufficient condition for the scheme of the Regulation to be applicable to litigation relating to legal relationships created before its entry into force is that the judicial proceedings should have been instituted subsequently to that date. Accession timing is irrelevant to the case: per C-420/07 Apostolides the Act of Accession of a new Member State is based essentially on the general principle that the provisions of EU law apply ab initio and in toto to that State, derogations being allowed only in so far as they are expressly laid down by transitional provisions.

On the substantial scope of the Brussels I Recast Regulation, for the issue of ‘civil and commercial’ the Court refers to its standing case-law (particularly most recently Aertssen and Sapir). In casu, it would seem (the national court is asked to confirm) that the parking debt claimed by Pula Parking is not coupled with any penalties that may be considered to result from a public authority act of Pula Parking and is not of a punitive nature but constitutes, therefore, mere consideration for a service provided. Brussels I applies.

However, notaries in casu do not act as courts: in a twin approach with Zulfikarpašić, the Court holds that the writ of execution based on an ‘authentic document’, issued by the notary, is served on the debtor only after the writ has been adopted, without the application by which the matter is raised with the notary having been communicated to the debtor. (at 58) Although it is true that debtors have the opportunity to lodge oppositions against writs of execution issued by notaries and it appears that notaries exercise the responsibilities conferred on them in the context of enforcement proceedings based on an ‘authentic document’ subject to review by the courts, to which notaries must refer possible challenges, the fact remains that the examination, by notaries, in Croatia, of an application for a writ of execution on such a basis is not conducted on an inter partes basis.

Geert.

European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.16.1.1. Chapter 6, Heading 6.2.1.

 

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CJEU in Zulfikarpašić: Suggest generic criteria for ‘courts’; completes the analysis for the notarial question at issue.

The Court held  yesterday in Zulfikarpašić Case C-484/15. I review Bot AG ‘s Opinion here.  At issue is the interpretation of ‘court’ and ‘judgment’ in the European enforcement order Regulation. Mutatis mutandis therefore the case has implications for most other EU private international law instruments, which employ similar terms. In all of these Regulations, the terms ‘court’ and ‘judgment’ are under- or not at all defined. The CJEU in fact refers to considerations under the Brussels I Recast in its judgment yesterday. And indeed its approach in Zulfikarpašić was confirmed on the same day for the Brussels I Recast, in Pula Parking.

For the determination of a ‘court’ the AG had emphasised guarantees as to independence and impartiality; the power to decide on one’s own authority; leading to a finding which was or may be subject to an exchange of arguments and may be challenged before a judicial authority. The AG had suggested that whether these conditions are fulfilled is for the national courts to assess.

The Court itself referred to a number of classic principles for the interpretation of EU private international law: autonomous interpretation; mutual trust; legitimate expectations. It then reformulated but essentially suggests similar criteria as its AG: for a finding to be qualified as a judgment, it must have been delivered in court proceedings offering guarantees of independence and impartiality and of compliance with the principle of audi alteram partem (at 43).In the Croatian procedure at issue, the notary issues an authentic instrument which, if it is challenged as to its content, is moved up the pecking order to court proceedings. The proceedings before the notary not meeting with the Court’s generic criteria, in contrast with the AG the Court itself already holds that the notaries at issue do not act as courts and their decisions are not ‘judgments’.

Geert.

European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.16.1.1. Chapter 6, Heading 6.2.1.

 

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Vinyls Italia: Szpunar AG on the chemistry between the Insolvency Regulation and Rome I. And again, on the pauliana.

In C-54/16 Vinyls Italia (in full: Vinyls Italia SpA, in liquidation v Mediterranea di Navigazione SpA) Szpunar AG opined last week (the Opinion is not available in English). At the core of the case is the application of Article 13 of the Insolvency Regulation 2000 (Article 16 in the 2015 version; see my general review here), however the case opens an interesting discussion on the meaning of ‘international’ in ‘private international law’.

For the general context of Article 13 (16 new) I should like to refer to my review of Lutz and Nike. At issue in the case at hand are payments made by Vinyls to Mediterranea for the transport of chemicals of the former by the latter. Both are Italian registered companies. Shipment was presumably carried out in Italy (an extra-Italian element in the actual transport does not feature in the factual analysis re ‘international’, which I refer to below). However the contract made choice of law in favour of English law. Mediterranea makes recourse to Article 13 juncto English law as the lex contractus to ward off an attempt by Vinyls to have the payments return to its books.

First up is the question whether courts should apply Article 13 ex officio: for Mediterranea’s claim was made after the procedural deadline foreseen by Italian law. Szpunar AG in my view justifiably suggest it does not: he refers to the Virgos Schmit report [„Article 13 represents a defence against the application of the law of the State of the opening, which must be pursued by the interested party, who must claim it” – § 136 of that report, para 43 of the AG’s Opinion) and to the CJEU’s finding in C-310/14 Nike at 26. The AG does point to the particulars of the case: Mediterranea seemingly had provided proof supporting its view that the substantial conditions of Article 13 had been met (in particular an expert opinion by an English lawyer) but had not expressis verbis requested its application. Szpunar refers the final say to the Italian court, which needs to judge on the basis of Italian civil procedure however does suggest that it seems fairly inconceivable to have provided proof for the fulfillment of a legal proviso, without meaning to request its application.

The question on the applicability of Rome I at all (which is required if Mediterranea want to make recourse to the provisions of English law as lex contractus per Rome I or the Rome convention) may not make it to the CJEU. As Szpunar AG notes, the underlying contract dates prior to 17 December 2009, which is the cut-off date of the Rome I Regulation. The referring court being a court of first instance, it is not in a position to request preliminary review of Rome I’s predecessor, the 1980 Rome Convention. The AG completes the analysis anyway (the Court itself will not, should it find Rome I not to be applicable) and takes in my view the right, expansionist approach (one which I also defend in my handbook): especially given the presence of Article 3(3)’s proviso for ‘purely domestic’ contracts, it is clear that it suffices for Rome I to be applicable that parties make choice of court in favour of a foreign law. Further in the opinion (137 ff) he also suggests that such application is not tantamount to fraude a la loi (fraus legis) and again I agree: the relevance of fraus has been seriously diminished by the provisions on party autonomy in both Rome I and the Rome Convention.

The use of choice of law per Rome I (or the Convention) in turn serves as a jack to trigger the application of the insolvency Regulation. That too is correct in my view, and with undramatic consequences. Choice of law for the underlying contract only identifies its lex causae (where relevant, with an impact on Article 13 of the Insolvency Regulation). It does does not of course in and of itself determine the lex concursus: the latter is determined by the Insolvency Regulation once /if insolvency occurs. Parties have no means to manipulate this at the time of the formation of the contract.

Exciting, conceptual stuff. Most probably the Court itself will not be in a position to assess it all.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.1; Heading 3.2.8.1; chapter 5; Heading 5.7.1.

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Lodi Trading, a lotta fog: Kolassa in the Belgian Supreme Court.

Many thanks Michael Verhaeghe  (whom I have the pleasure with jointly to be representing a client) for alerting me to Lodi Trading in which the Belgian Supreme Court applied (and distinguished) Kolassa. Lodi Trading is registered in The Netherlands and seemingly had been duped into transferring funds to a gang of fraudsters.  As always, the judgment is very very scant on factual reference, and I have not been able to find the Court of Appeals’ judgement: if anyone can: Court of Appeal Gent, 8 December 2015.

Like the CJEU itself did clearly in Universal Music, the Hof van Cassatie distinguished Kolassa (although it does not refer to Universal Music in this part of the judgment) by insisting there be circumstances specific to the case, over and above the simple presence of a bank account, which point to the damage occurring in that State.

In Universal Music the CJEU had emphasised the need for case-specific facts for bank accounts to be a relevant factor in determining jurisdiction, by holding that ‘it is only where the other circumstances specific to the case also contribute to attributing jurisdiction to the courts for the place where a purely financial damage occurred, that such damage could, justifiably, entitle the applicant to bring the proceedings before the courts for that place.’ (emphasis added).

What seems (but again: see the joint caveat of the Supreme Court’s judgment being scant and the Court of Appeal’s judgment being untraceable) to be specific to this case is that the Court of Appeal had held in favour of the location of the bank account of recipient of the funds being locus damni, given that ‘internal law’ (by which I take it reference is made to Belgian, not Dutch law) determines that the time of payment is determined by the moment of accreditation of the funds to the beneficiary’s account: not (the alternative reading; but again I am assuming for the judgment’s 10 brief paras do invite speculation) the time of the funds leaving the account holder’s account.

It could well be therefore that the Supreme Court is rebuking the Court of Appeal for having Belgian law enter the equation, given the need for autonomous interpretation of European civil procedure. But I am not entirely sure.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Headings 2.2.11.2, 2.2.11.2.7

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