High Court declines jurisdiction in Municipio de Mariana. An important (first instance) #bizhumanrights marker.

I am instructed for claimants in the case hence my post here is a succinct report, not a review and it must not be read as anything else.

Turner J yesterday struck out (not just: stayed) the case against the companies jointly operating the facilities that led to the 2015 Brazilian dam break and consequential human and environmental loss in Município De Mariana & Ors v BHP Group Plc & Anor [2020] EWHC 2930 (TCC). I reported on the case before here.

Eyre J’s earlier Order had identified the threefold jurisdictional challenge: 1. Forum non conveniens for non-EU defendants; 2. Article 34 Brussels IA for the EU-based defendants; 3. Abuse of process, case management for both.

In his judgment Turner J makes abuse of process the core of the case, hinging his subsequent obiter analysis of forum non and of Article 34 on his views viz abuse. At the centre of his abuse analysis is his interpretation of AB v John Wyeth & Brother (No.4), also known as the benzodiazepine litigation, with the points he takes from that judgment (even after the subsequent CPR rules wre issued) summarized at 76.

At 80 ff is a discussion (see e.g. my earlier review of Donaldson DJ in Zavarco) on the use of case-management powers, including abuse, against EU-domiciled defendants post CJEU Owusu (the ‘back-door analogy per Lewison J in Skype technologies SA v Joltid Ltd [2009] EWHC 2783 (Ch) ).

At 99 ff Turner J pays a lot of attention to the impact of accepting jurisdiction on the working of the courts in England, discusses some of the practicalities including language issues, and decides at 141 in an extract which has already caught the attention of others, that ‘In particular, the claimants’ tactical decision to progress closely related damages claims in the Brazilian and English jurisdictions simultaneously is an initiative the consequences of which, if unchecked, would foist upon the English courts the largest white elephant in the history of group actions.’

At 146 ff follow the obiter considerations of the remaining grounds, Article 34 Recast, forum non conveniens and case management stay. On Article 34 viz BHP Plc, the issue of ‘relatedness’ is discussed with reference of course to Euroeco and the tension between that case and Privatbank, as I flag ia here, holding at 199 in favour of Privatbank as the leading authority (hence focus on desirability of hearing cases together rather than on practical possibility). On relatedness, Turner J does not follow the approach of either Zavarco or Jalla, both of course first instance decisions.

At 206 Turner J takes the instructions of recital 24 Brussels Ia’s ‘all circumstances of the case’ to mean including circumstances which would ordinarily be part of a forum non consideration, despite Owusu, and at 231 Jalla is distinguished (at least practically; Jalla is not authority for the judge here) and i.a. at 221 Turner J lists his reasons for allowing an Article 34 stay (again: these are obiter views). As already noted, these echo his findings on abuse of process.

The forum non conveniens analysis viz BHP Ltd at 235 ff, applying Spiliada, delivers inter alia on an inherent implication of Lord Briggs’ suggestions in Vedanta: that a commitment of defendants voluntarily to submit to the foreign alternative jurisdiction, hands them the key to unlock forum non. At 241: ‘In this case, both defendants have offered to submit themselves to the jurisdiction of Brazil. Thus the force of any suggestion that there may be a risk of irreconcilable judgements against each defendant is attenuated.’

Conclusions, at 265:

(i) I strike out the claims against both defendants as an abuse of the process of the court;

(ii) If my finding of abuse were correct but my decision to strike out were wrong, then I would stay the claims leaving open the possibility of the claimants, or some of them, seeking to lift the stay in future but without pre-determining the timing of any such application or the circumstances in which such an application would be liable to succeed;

(iii) If my finding of abuse were wrong, then I would, in any event, stay the claim against BHP Plc by the application of Article 34 of the Recast Regulation;

(iv) If my finding of abuse were wrong, then I would, in any event, stay the claims against BHP Ltd on the grounds of forum non conveniens regardless of whether the BHP reliance on Article 34 of the Recast Regulation had been successful or not;

(v) If my findings on the abuse of process point were wrong, then a free-standing decision to impose a stay on case management grounds would probably be unsustainable.

Appeal is of course being considered.

Geert.

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

3rd ed. forthcoming February 2021.

RCT Holdings v LT Game. Supreme Court of Queensland sees no reason to frustrate choice of court pro Macau even in times of Covid19..

Thank you Angus Macinnis for flagging RCD Holdings Ltd & Anor v LT Game International (Australia) Ltd [2020] QSC 318 in which  Davis J upheld choice of court in favour of the courts at Macau and held against a stay. The judgment is a good one for comparative purposes.

Claimants, ePayment Solutions Pty Ltd (EPS) and RCD Holdings Ltd (RCD), in their contract with the defendant, LT Game International (Australia) Ltd (LT) (a BVI domiciled company), agreed that any dispute between them would be litigated in Macau. However, when a dispute did arise they commenced proceedings in Queensland. LT entered a conditional appearance and now applies to strike out the claim, or alternatively, to have it stayed as being commenced in this court contrary to the contract.

Article 10 of the contract carries the title Governing law but actually is a choice of court clause – an oddity one sees more often than one might expect in B2B contracts: ‘Any dispute or issue arising hereunder, including any alleged breach by any party, shall be heard, determined and resolved by an action commenced in Macau. The English language will be used in all documents.”

Comparative insight includes the issue of whether A10 us a non-exclusive (an agreement not to object when proceedings are brought in the court designated) or exclusive (an agreement only to bring proceedings in the court designated) choice of court. Davis J settled for exclusive which would also seem to have been the position of both parties, despite some ambiguity at the start of proceedings.

Lex contractus is disputed, and at 27 Davis J settles for Macanese law, based upon factual construct of the contractual intention of the parties. Clearly that choice of court was made for Macau was an important factor – as it is in Rome I for consideration of so-called ‘implied’ choice of law in the event of choice of court made.

A stay on the basis of Covid19 impracticability (ia because of alleged difficulties for witness testimony) is dismissed, ia (at 34) because it is uncertain whether current travel restrictions will still be in place when the case in Macau might be heard. Davis j does suggest that a renewed application for a stay must not be ruled out in light of Covid19 developments, however will be seen against abuse of process: in other words claimants had best not do so lightly.

Geert.

Banco San Juan v Petroleos De Venezuela: Another call for lois de police and sanctions law.

Banco San Juan Internacional Inc v Petroleos De Venezuela SA [2020] EWHC 2937 (Comm) is a lengthy judgment which I report here for its discussion of Rome I Article 9’s provisions on overriding mandatory laws /lois de police. The discussion is similar to the consideration of A9 in Lamesa Investments, to which reference is made.

The Claims comprise two substantial claims in debt by claimant BSJI, a bank incorporated in Puerto Rico, against defendant PDVSA, the Venezuelan state-owned oil and gas company.  PDVSA arue inter alia that payment obligations fall to be performed in the US and contends that US sanctions ought to be regarded as part of the order public (sic) of US law. It is said these are a central component of US foreign policy and its political and economic aims as regards Venezuela. It is argued that the terms of the Executive Orders themselves make clear that they are reactions to perceived political and human rights injustices in Venezuela and describe this as “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States“.

However Article 9(3) Rome I comes with a sizeable amount of discretion: ‘Effect may be given to the overriding mandatory provisions of the law of the country where the obligations arising out of the contract have to be or have been performed, in so far as those overriding mandatory provisions render the performance of the contract unlawful. In considering whether to give effect to those provisions, regard shall be had to their nature and purpose and to the consequences of their application or non-application.’

At 118 Cockerill J decides not to use the discretion for the same reason she had earlier dismissed application of the Ralli Bros principle. That rule was recently discussed in Colt v SGG. (As summarised here by Mrs Justice Cockerill at 77) it ‘provides that an obligation under an English law contract is invalid and unenforceable, or suspended in the case of a payment obligation, insofar as the contract requires performance in a place where it is unlawful under the law of that required place of performance.’ And at 79: ‘The doctrine therefore offers a narrow gateway: the performance of the contract must necessarily involve the performance of an act illegal at the place of performance. Subject to the Foster v Driscoll principle [also discussed in Colt and of no relevance here, GAVC], it is no use if the contract could be performed some other way which is legal; and it is no use if the illegal act has to be performed somewhere else’ and at 84 ‘it is only illegality at the place of performance which is apt to provide an excuse under the Ralli Bros doctrine; it also makes clear that the party relying on the doctrine will in general not be excused if he could have done something to bring about valid performance and failed to do so.’ 

The lex contractus is English law which already has the Ralli Bros rule. At 120 Cockerill J suggest that if the court in question has no equivalent rule of law, Article 9(3) will have a significant impact. But not if the lex contractus is English law.

I have to give this some further thought and I am not sure it would make much difference in practice but could it not be said that A9(3) Rome I exhaustively regulates the use of overriding mandatory law to frustrate a contract? This would mean that where Rome I applies, Ralli Bros and even Foster v Driscoll must not apply and must not be entertained. That is a question of some relevance, even after Brexit albeit with a complication: for to the extent (see discussions elsewhere) the Rome Convention re-applies to the UK post Brexit, that Convention’s Article 7 rule on mandatory rules ordinarly applies – albeit the UK have entered a reservation viz A7(1) on which see also here. That article gives  a lot of freedom for the forum to apply mandatory laws of many more States than the lex loci solutionis [Article 7(1) Rome Convention: ‘ When applying under this Convention the law of a country, effect may be given to the mandatory rules of the law of another country with which the situation has a close connection, if and in so far as, under the law of the latter country, those rules must be applied whatever the law applicable to the contract. In considering whether to give effect to these mandatory rules, regard shall be had to their nature and purpose and to the consequences of their application or non-application’].

At the very least an exhaustive role for A9 Rome I (and again in future for UK courts, potentially A7 Rome Convention; but see the note on reservation) would require from the judge a different engagement of the issues than under Ralli Bros. Again, whether indeed, and per Cockerill J’s suggestion here (she applies both Ralli Bros and A9)  in the case of England that would make much difference in outcome is uncertain. Update 6 November 10:20 AM: see prof Dickinson’s impromptu contribution to the issue here.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.8, Heading 3.2.8.3.

3rd ed. forthcoming February 2021.

Choice of law and arbitration: the UK SC in Enka v Chubb unlikely to settle the issue.

I discussed the first instance judgment in Enka Insaat here and the Court of Appeal’s findings here. The Supreme Court’s judgment, Enka Insaat Ve Sanayi AS v OOO Insurance Company Chubb [2020] UKSC 38 attempts to settle one of the many issues which choice of law in arbitration provokes, as I first flagged in a post on Sulamerica here: one needs to determine lex arbitri (the law that governs the arbitration agreement; it decides issues such as what issues are arbitrable, and whether the agreement to arbitrate is valid at all); the curial law or the ‘law of the seat’ (the procedural law which will guide the arbitration proceedings; despite the latin curia not commonly referred to as lex curiae); the ‘proper law’, the law that governs the actual contract (lex contractus) of which the agreement to arbitrate is only one part; and the locus arbitri and the lex locus arbitri:  the venue of the arbitration and its laws, which may or may not interact with the proceedings. That 2013 post on Sulamerica contains many further references, including comparative ones. Further case-law may be found by using the search tag ‘Sulamerica’ on the blog.

The Supreme Court held 3-2 in favour of dismissing the appeal, but only on the facts. Lord Burrows dissented in part, Sales dissented. The Supreme Court has now effectively held that unlike the Court of Appeal’s suggestion,  in the absence of express contractual provision there is no “strong presumption” of an implied term for the lex curiae, the law of the seat of the arbitration, to be  the lex arbitri (the law that governs the arbitration agreement), instead pushing the lex contractus (of the agreement of which the arbitration agreement is part) as the lex arbitri.

There has been plenty of analysis since the 9 October judgment and I shall let readers find that for themselves (Google search ‘proper law arbitration Enka v Chubb’ should do the trick). Ex multi I found Peter Ashford’s analysis very useful, including his use of the term ‘host contract’.

As the discussion here shows, with 2 strong dissenters and open discussions on the determination of implied choice of law, I do not think judgment in Enka v Chubb has truly settled the issue. Per inspiratio Steven Barrett’s quote, this might be one of those authorities one can drive a coach and horses through.

Geert.

Shenzen Senior Technology Material v Celgard. On Rome II’s rule applicable law rule for unfair competition, distinguishing ‘direct’ from ‘indirect’ damage, and the Trade Secrets Directive.

Shenzhen Senior Technology Material Co Ltd v Celgard, LLC [2020] EWCA Civ 1293 concerns an appeal against service out of jurisdiction (the judgment appealed is [2020] EWHC 2072 (Ch)). Celgard allege that the importation and marketing by Senior of battery separator film involves the misuse of Celgard’s trade secrets.

Senior (of China) contend that the judge fell into error in concluding, first, that Celgard (incorporated in Delaware) had established a serious issue to be tried (here part of the jurisdictional threshold) assuming that English law applies to its claims and, secondly, that England is the proper forum to try the claims. As to the latter the core argument is that in limiting its claims to remedies in respect of acts in the UK, Celgard could not establish the requisite degree of connection to England. As for the former, they argue the law applicable to Celgard’s claims is Chinese law, which would count against jurisdiction.

Strategically, Celgard’s case against Senior is not based on breach of the NDA applicable between Celgard and one of its former employees,  Dr Zhang who, when he left Celgard, told its then COO that he was going to work for General Electric in California, which does not compete with Celgard in the field of battery separators. It later transpired that he had in fact joined Senior in China, where he was using the false name “Bin Wang”. This element of the facts triggers the question whether Senior is liable for the acts of another, even if that other is its employee.

The Celgard – Zhang NDA is governed by the law of South Carolina, application of which would also have triggered A4(3)(b) or (c) of the Trade Secrets Directive 2016/943. Celgard do rely on the NDA as supporting its case that the trade secrets were confidential. Rather Celgard claim that Senior’s employee acted in breach of an equitable obligation. This engages Rome II,  specifically Article 6(2) because Celgard’s claims are concerned with an act of unfair competition affecting exclusively the interests of a specific competitor, namely Celgard. In such circumstances, Article 6(2) provides that “Article 4 shall apply”.

Of note is that this is one of those cases that show that Rome II applies to more than just tortious obligations: as Arnold LJ notes at 51, as a matter of English law, claims for breach of equitable obligations of confidence are not claims in tort.

Celgard’s case, accepted by Trowe J at the High Court, is that A4(1) leads to English law because the ‘direct damage’ (per Rome II and CJEU Lazard indirect damage needs to be ignored) caused by the wrongdoing it complains of has occurred (and will, if not restrained, continue to occur) in the UK, that being the country into which the infringing goods (namely the shipment to the UK Customer and any future shipments of the same separator) have been (and will be) imported, causing damage to Celgard’s market here.

Senior’s case is that confidential information is intangible property and that damage to intangible property is located at the time and place it became irreversible (support is sought in extracts from Andrew Dickinson’s Rome II volume with OUP). At 58 ff Arnold LJ gives 7 reasons for rejecting the position. I will not repeat them all here. Of note is not just the (most justifiable) heavy leaning on the travaux but also the support sought in secondary EU law different from private international law (such as the Trade Secrets Directive 2016/943) as well as in the consistency between Brussels Ia and the Rome Regulations [on which Szpunar AG has written excellently in Burkhard Hess and Koen Lenaerts (eds.), The 50th Anniversary of the European Law of Civil Procedure]. This is not an easy proposition however given the lack of detail in Rome I and the need for autonomous EU interpretation, understandable.

The Trade Secrets Directive is further discussed at 65 ff for in A4(5) it makes importation of infringing goods an unlawful use of a trade secret “where the person carrying out such activities knew, or ought, under the circumstances, to have known that the trade secret was used unlawfully within the meaning of paragraph 3”. One of the possibilities embraced by paragraph 3 is (a), the person “having acquired the trade secret unlawfully”. Arnold LJ then asks: what law is to be applied to determine whether it was acquired “unlawfully”? Is A4(5) read together with A4(3)(a) an implicit choice of law rule pointing to the law of the place where the trade secret was acquired? Arnold LJ suggests this is not acte clair and may need CJEU clarification however not at this stage for his provisional view (with an eye on the jurisdictional threshold test) is that the Directive is not an implicit choice of law rule and that per Rome II, English law applies.

Plenty applicable law issues to discuss at the merits stage.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 4, Heading 4.6.2. Third ed. forthcoming February 2021.

 

 

Lopesan Touristik v Apollo Principal Finance. Importance of choice of court in lis alibi pendens applications testifies to English courts’ strong support for party autonomy..

Another day and another application for a stay on the basis of Article 30 Brussels Ia. Lopesan Touristik SA v Apollo European Principal Finance Fund III (Dollar A) L.P. & Ors [2020] EWHC 2642 (Comm) engages a Sale and Purchase Agreement (SPA) between Lopesan as seller and Spanish company Oldavia as buyer, for Lopesan’s interest in the Buenaventura hotel in Spain. The Hotel is owned by Creative Hotel Buenaventura SAU.

Oldavia is a special purpose vehicle through which Apollo, who are private equity interests, acquired the Hotel for c.€93 million. That funding commitment was reflected in the terms of an Equity Commitment Letter (ECL), under which Apollo promised Oldavia, on the terms and conditions set out in the ECL, to provide it with the funding required to complete the SPA, which obligation was expressly made enforceable by Lopesan under the Contracts (Rights of Third Parties) Act 1999.

The SPA is governed by Spanish law and contains an exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of the Spanish courts. The ECL is governed by English law and contains an exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of the English courts.

Completion did not take place, and there are disputes between Lopesan and Oldavia as to whether Oldavia was or is obliged to complete under the SPA.

On 12 August 2020, Lopesan commenced proceedings against Oldavia in Madrid seeking specific performance of Oldavia’s obligation to complete under the SPA. Parties agree that those proceedings will not be determined for at least 12 months. On 20 August 2020, Lopesan wrote to Apollo seeking confirmations and undertakings intended to ensure that, if the specific performance claim against Oldavia succeeded, Apollo would provide the funds to Oldavia to allow completion to occur. Apollo disputed that Oldavia was under any obligation to complete, and as a result that it was under any corresponding obligation to put Oldavia in funds to enable it to complete.

On 15 September 2020 Lopesan then issued proceedings seeking to enforce its rights as a third party beneficiary under the ECL by way of an order for specific performance of Apollo’s obligation to put Oldavia in funds. Lopesan also issued an application for a speedy trial of that action to ensure judgment was delivered before 1 January 2021: there is a potential argument that Apollo’s obligations will lapse on 1 January 2021, even if, before that date, Oldavia came under a legal obligation to complete the SPA.

Apollo seek a stay of the proceedings under A30(1) BIa.

At 47 Foxton J refers to the Privatbank /EuroEco discussion which he summarises as ‘whether actions are related for the purposes of A30 only when the actions can in fact be heard and determined together, or whether actions are related where they would be heard and determined together but for some external factor (such as exclusive jurisdiction agreements or subject-matter limits on the jurisdiction of a particular court) which prevents this.’ Effective v theoretical hearing together, in other words. He sides with Privatbank but also accepts, with reference to Privatbank, that a practical inability to achieve an outcome where both cases are heard and determined together will be a factor which weighs against granting a stay as a matter of the discretion which Article 30 grants the judge, and that “absent some strong, countervailing factor, the fact that proceedings cannot be consolidated and heard together will be a compelling reason for refusing a stay”.

Further, and with reference to The Alexandros and to Generali v Pelagic Fisheries, where the factor which prevents the two actions being heard together is an exclusive jurisdiction clause, that of itself will constitute a powerful (although not insuperable) factor against staying proceedings which have been brought in the parties’ chosen jurisdiction pending the determination of proceedings elsewhere. At 50 he holds that this is a factor even when the other proceedings have themselves not been commenced in breach of contract.

At 57 Foxton J points that neither the relatedness of the actions nor that the Spanish court is first seised, are disputed. Relatedness exists given that any issue arising in the English proceedings which concerns the issue of whether Oldavia was obliged to complete the SPA necessarily arises in Spain. He then holds that the degree of relatedness is high and that the Spanish courts have much closer proximity to the subject matter of the case, involving, as it does, issues as to the effect of Covid-19 and the Spanish government’s response to it on a Spanish hotel, and the legal effects of those and other matters on a contract governed by Spanish law. However, at 58, if the English proceedings are stayed, it will not be possible to hear and determine the claims in the English and Spanish proceedings together, given the conflicting exclusive jurisdiction clauses in the ECL and the SPA. The decision (whether on issues of law or fact) in the Spanish proceedings would not be binding in the English proceedings, although if Lopesan fails in the Spanish proceedings, that will in practice be determinative of the English proceedings. Findings of law in the Spanish proceedings will also have a strong evidential value in the English proceedings.

Nevertheless, the significance of the English jurisdiction clause and the practical impossibility to hear the claims together in the Spanish courts, make him decide at 60 ff against a stay. His judgment displays the characteristic support of the English courts and English law for party autonomy: parties have deliberately structured the transaction so that claims under the ECL would be heard in a different jurisdiction to claims under the SPA. Consider his reasoning at 61:

That choice having been made, no doubt for good commercial reasons, and the events which have transpired being a scenario which must have been squarely within the parties’ contemplation, it would take a very strong case to justify staying proceedings brought as of right here pending the outcome of proceedings in another jurisdiction. The closer proximity of the Spanish courts to the dispute, nor its status as the natural forum to determine issues of Spanish law, are not sufficient to justify a stay, both because this must have been obvious to the parties when they put this arrangement in place, and because the parties expressly agreed not to raise any objections to proceedings in England on the ground that proceedings have been brought in an inconvenient forum. I do not suggest that this last factor is determinative or that it precludes an Article 30(1) stay. There is a public, as well as a purely private, interest in avoiding irreconcilable judgments within the Brussels Recast regime. However, the factor that the parties wanted the dispute to be determined in their chosen forum regardless of whether another court might be a more convenient forum is a factor which weighs in the balance against a stay.

A relevant judgment.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law – 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.14.5.
Third edition forthcoming February 2021

 

Philips v TCL. On lis alibi pendens /res judicata, and FRAND proceedings.

In Koninklijke Philips NV v Tinno Mobile Technology Corporation & Ors [2020] EWHC 2553 (Ch) Mann J considers the English side of a licence on  ‘FRAND’ (fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory) terms.  In these English proceedings Philips seek inter alia, a declaration that the terms it has offered are FRAND, or alternatively that FRAND terms be determined. Its injunction claim accepts that the injunction will only come into force if a worldwide FRAND licence is not accepted by TCL, one of the defendants who is seeking the licence. TCL have commenced proceedings in France which, inter alia, seem to seek to have FRAND terms determined. Philips attempted to have those proceedings stayed pursuant to Article 29 Brussels Ia, but that attempt failed, as did an application for a stay under Article 30 BIa. In turn, not surprisingly, TCL seek a stay of the English proceedings, including, crucially, the vacation of a trial date in November which is intended to determine FRAND issues, in favour of its French proceedings pursuant to the same Articles 29 and/or 30 Brussels Ia.

Philips’ claim form says it is for infringement of two of its European patents, corresponding injunction (prohibiting further infringement) and damages or an account of profits, and other ancillary relief.

At 49 in assessing the impact of the French judgment and the scope of its res judicata, Mann J justifiable refers to C-456/11 Gothaer, that it is not just the ‘dispositif’ of a judgment which has res judicata, but also the core reasoning: at 40 of the CJEU judgment: ‘the concept of res judicata under European Union law does not attach only to the operative part of the judgment in question, but also attaches to the ratio decidendi of that judgment, which provides the necessary underpinning for the operative part and is inseparable from it …’

His enquiry of the dispositif and the French judge’s reasoning as well as, to a certain extent, the submissions of the parties, leads Mann J to conclude that the French judge did not hold that the French court was first seized of FRAND proceedings. Instead, she held that the proceedings in England and the proceedings in France did not (for the purposes of A29) have the same subject matter. That means that the question of first seised became irrelevant.

Mann J then holds himself that the English court was first seized of the FRAND issue and consequently has no power under A30 BIa to stay its proceedings. It was suggested in vain by counsel for the defendants that Articles 29 and 30 are not acte clair on the point of new actions arising in an existing action, given a distinction between the word “proceedings” in Article 29 and “actions” in Article 30 at least in the English version of those Articles.

The jurisdictional challenge was rejected and the relief granted.
Geert.
(Handbook of) European Private International Law – 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.14.5.
Third edition forthcoming February 2021.

The French Supreme Court confirms English law denial of adopted’s right to confirm simultaneous descent from adopted parents and biological father.

A quick note for archival purposes on the French Supreme Court judgment earlier this month in which it upheld the lower courts’ decision (which had been reversed upon appeal) that European Convention rights do not trump the impossibility under English law, which is the law under which the claimant had been adopted, for the adopted to confirm descent from both the adopted parents and the biological father.

It is important to keep in mind the specific circumstances of the case in which the Supreme Court let the stability of family relations prevail over ECHR rights. The adoption went back to 1966 (the UK birth to 1958). The true identity of the father seemingly had always been known to the applicant. The mother (1963) and the suspected biological father (2011)  have passed away, the real issue would seem to be inheritance related.

Geert.

 

Sappi Austria: CJEU tries to keep a common sense approach to supporting the circular economy and maintaining the objectives of EU waste law.

Case C‑629/19 Sappi Austria Produktions-GmbH & Co. KG and Wasserverband ‘Region Gratkorn-Gratwein’ v Landeshauptmann von Steiermark in which the CJEU held on Wednesday is in my off the cuff view (I did not research it in the recent case-law) the first case where the CJEU specifically mentions the objectives of the circular economy to support its interpretation of the core definition of ‘waste’ in the Waste Framework Directive 2008/98.

Sappi operate a large industrial paper and pulp production plant in Gratkorn (Austria). On that site is also a sewage treatment plant, operated jointly by Sappi and the Wasserverband, which treats waste water from paper and pulp production as well as municipal waste water. During the treatment of that waste water, which is required by national law, the sewage sludge in question in the main proceedings arises. That sludge is therefore made up of both substances from industrial waste water and substances from municipal waste water. Sewage sludge which is produced in the sewage treatment plant is then incinerated in a boiler of Sappi and in a waste incineration plant operated by the Wasserverband, and the steam reclaimed for the purposes of energy recovery is used in the production of paper and pulp.  hat authority found that, admittedly, the majority of the sewage sludge used for incineration, namely 97%, originated from a paper production process and that this proportion could be regarded as having ‘by-product’ status within the meaning of Paragraph 2(3a) of the AWG 2002. However, that does not apply to the proportion of sewage sludge arising from municipal waste water treatment. That sewage sludge remains waste. Since there is no de minimis limit for the classification of a substance as ‘waste’, the authority assumed that all the sewage sludge incinerated in the industrial plants of Sappi and of the Wasserverband must be classified as ‘waste’.

The CJEU first of all holds that there is no relevant secondary law which provides the kinds of qualitative criteria for sewage sludge to meet with the objectives of the WFD. If there were such laws, and the sludge meets their requirements, it would be exempt form the WFD. It then reminds the referring court, of course, of the extensive authority on the notion of waste (most recently C-624/17 Tronex) yet is happy to provide the national Court with input into the application in casu.

In principle, the sludge is waste, the Court holds: it is a residue from waste water treatment and it is being discarded.

However, the referring judge suggests that the sludge may meet the requirements of A6(1) WFD as being fully ‘recovered’ before it is used in the incineration process. It is there that the CJEU refers to the circular economy: at 68:

it is particularly relevant that the heat generated during the incineration of the sewage sludge is re-used in a paper and pulp production process and that such a process provides a significant benefit to the environment because of the use of recovered material in order to preserve natural resources and to enable the development of a circular economy.

Per C‑60/18 Tallinna Vesi, the recovery of sewage sludge entails certain risks for the environment and human health, particularly linked to the potential presence of hazardous substances. For the sludge at issue here not to be waste, presupposes that the treatment carried out for the purposes of recovery makes it possible to obtain sewage sludge with a high level of protection of the environment and human health, such as required by the WFD, which is, in particular, free from any dangerous substance. For that purpose, it is necessary to ensure that the sewage sludge in question in the main proceedings is harmless (at 66). The CJEU concludes, at 67

It is for the referring court to determine whether the conditions laid down in Article 6(1) of Directive 2008/98 are already met before the sewage sludge is incinerated. It must in particular be determined, as appropriate, on the basis of a scientific and technical analysis, that the sewage sludge meets the statutory limit values for pollutants and that its incineration does not lead to overall adverse environmental or human health impacts.

There are as yet no EU standards for the full recovery of sewage sludge, hence the ball of end of waste status is once again in the Member States’ court.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Waste law, 2nd ed. 2015, Oxford, OUP, Chapter 1, 1.149 ff.

No instant forum coffee. Selecta: Some more substantial reflection on jurisdiction for schemes of arrangement.

In Selecta Finance UK Ltd, Re [2020] EWHC 2689 (Ch) Johnson J considered the jurisdictional issues for schemes of arrangement in a touch more detail than recently has been the regular method in both convening and sanctioning hearings.

Selecta Finance UK Limited is a most recent addition to the ‘Selecta’ group , having been established only on 13 August 2020. (Selecta is said to be the leading provider of unattended self-service coffee and convenience food in Europe).  The Scheme concerns three series of senior secured Notes (“the Existing SSNs“), which have an aggregate principal amount of €1.24 billion plus CHF 250 million. The Existing SSNs were issued originally not by the Company but by Selecta Group BV, its parent company incorporated in the Netherlands. They were issued pursuant to a Trust Deed dated 2 February 2018 , and were originally governed by New York law and subject to a provision for the New York Courts to have exclusive jurisdiction.

With reference to authority, Johnson J accepts that the relevant parties in interest who qualify as the Scheme Creditors are the ultimate beneficial owners of the Existing SSNs. By 14 September 2020, the Existing SSN Holders holding a majority by value of the Existing SSNs had provided their consent to (among others) the following key changes to the terms of the SSNs:  i) Amendment of the governing law provisions of the Trust Deed so that the Existing SSNs are governed by English rather than New York law. ii) Amendment of the jurisdiction provisions of the Trust Deed so that the Existing SSNs are subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the English Court in relation to any proceedings commenced by an obligor of the Existing SSNs, and the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the English Court in relation to other proceedings; iii) Accession of the Company to the Trust Deed as a co-issuer of the Existing SSNs.

At 18 it is said that an expert report on US and New York law confirms that the amendments to the governing law and jurisdiction clauses of the Trust Deed are valid under New York law and would be regarded as effective in any United States court applying that law.

The relevance of that finding for unwilling SSNs beneficiaries, I would argue, is not undisputedly established under Article 10 and Article 3(2) Rome I.

 

The Company then entered into a Supplemental Trust Deed on 14 September 2020 and thereby became a co-issuer of the Existing SSNs under the Trust Deed. As Johnson J notes at 44: it is only by means of the Supplemental Trust Deed that the Company became co-issuer of the Existing SSNs, and that the governing law and jurisdiction provisions were changed so as to refer to English law and jurisdiction.

It is clear that a jurisdictional link with England & Wales has been established specifically for the purpose of a company taking advantage of the scheme provisions in English law. With reference to Newey J in Re Codere Finance (UK) Ltd [2015] EWHC 3778 (Ch) which I reviewed here, this is held to be ‘good forum shopping’.

Article 25 Brussels Ia jurisdiction is only possible by means of the amendments to the Trust Deed effected via the Supplemental Trust Deed, as I also noted above. As I suggest there, had there been recalcitrant minority Note holders objecting to the change in court and law clause, I think the Scheme would not have been jurisdictionally home and dry on A25 choice of court grounds.

The next classic consideration is under Article 8(1)’s anchor defendant mechanism seeing as jurisdiction against the company is established per Article 4.

At 53 reference is made to Snowden J. who in Van Gansewinkel has suggested that in determining whether A8(1) applies, the Court is required to consider whether the “numbers and size of the scheme creditors domiciled in [the UK]” are “sufficiently large“: the result of that instruction is that applicants tend to point out the (debt) size of the creditors so domiciled, even if in DTEK Newey J held that size and number are irrelevant, ditto in Lecta Paper and Swissport FuellingUpdate 27 October 2020 the disparity on the need for size and number is also noted by Miles J in New Look Financing PLC, Re [2020] EWHC 2793 (Ch).

At 54 comes Johnson J’s obiter, useful finding:

Speaking for myself, I incline to the view that the presence of a single creditor is a necessary, but not of itself a sufficient, condition to the operation of Art. 8. I say that because in terms the power conferred by Art. 8 is engaged where “any one of” a number of defendants is domiciled in England & Wales, but even then the power is to be exercised only in cases where the language of the proviso in Art. 8 is satisfied – i.e., where the claims against the various defendants are so closely connected that it is expedient to hear and determine them together to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgments resulting from separate proceedings. I did not hear detailed argument on the meaning of this language, and in any event the application before me was uncontested, and so I express my view on it somewhat tentatively; but tentatively it seems to me that the question of expediency posed by the proviso is rather less about the geographical distribution in terms of number and size of the prospective defendants, and is rather more about the expediency in case management terms of connected claims being resolved in one place, even if only one anchor defendant is domiciled there. The argument in this case is that it is expedient for the claims against all EU domiciled Scheme Creditors to be resolved in one place, i.e. in England & Wales, because such claims all relate to the reorganisation of their indebtedness vis-à-vis the Company, and these Courts are best placed to resolve such questions given the separate jurisdiction they exercise over the Company under CA Part 26. Indeed, they may be uniquely placed to do so.

Opposition to the Scheme’s jurisdiction tends to evaporate once it gets to the convening and hearing stage. This is typically because the opposing creditors tend to by that stage be converted to the necessity of restructuring and the unattractiveness of having to pursue debt collection against a corporation in serious financial difficulty. As a result nearly all precedent is first instance only.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd edition 2016, Chapter 2, Chapter 5. Third edition forthcoming February 2021.