GtFlix. Hogan AG suggests the jurisdictional gateway for economic damage, not defamation, catches malicious falsehood between economic operators.

As I noted when I signalled the reference, the French Supreme Court in C-251/20 GtFlix has not referred the question whether Bolagsupplysningen is good authority for acts of unfair competition between competitors. Rather, it queries whether Bolagsupplysningen means that a claimant who requests both rectification /retraction and damages, has to necessarily turn to courts with full jurisdiction or whether they can continue to turn for the damages part, to all courts with locus damni jurisdiction.

Hogan AG in his Opinion a few weeks ago (more analysis by  Marta Requejo Isidro here) right up to (94) revisits the wisdom of applying Shevill’s Handlungsort/Erfolgort distinction and the possibility of using GtFlix to overturn. I agree that this is not the case to do it. (On the CJEU and overturning its authority, see excellently the departing Bobek AG in C‑205/20).

At 95 he then essentially requalifies and answers the question which the SC had not referred. The action at the French courts is one in dénigrement, which is a form of malicious falsehood which, the AG suggests, does not call into question the Bolagsupplysningen line of cases but rather Tibor Trans and the cases before it.

An action relating to an infringement of unfair competition law may be brought before the courts of any Member State where that act caused or may cause damage within the jurisdiction of the court seised. Where the market affected by the anticompetitive conduct is in the Member State on whose territory the alleged damage is purported to have occurred, that Member State must be regarded as the place where the damage occurred for the purposes of applying Article 7(2) (99).  A final reference at (102) ff is to the applicable law level under (Article 6) Rome II. 

Should the CJEU follow, one of the left-over questions following Bolagsupplysningen will not be answered, yet another issue on falsehoods spread between competitors, will.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2

Drawing somewhat blank. The CJEU in Toto.

The CJEU yesterday held in C-581/20 Toto. I discussed the AG’s Opinion earlier. Gilles Cuniberti in his analysis engages critically with the Court’s replies to the interim measures issues, Krzysztof Pacula’s review looks at the other questions asked, too. All in all, the Court’s engagement with the issues is under par. 

The CJEU first of all holds that despite the instrument of public procurement, the case does not involve acta iure imperii (and notes [42] that the current procedure has been brought entirely under ordinary civil procedure rules). This is simply an ordinary spat between contracting parties on the exercise of a straightforward construction contract. With reference to Rina and in particular Supreme Site Services, the Court [45] confirms that lex fori rules on immunity do not as such exclude the qualification of ‘civil and commercial’. As we have already experienced in the final, national judgment in Kuhn, the CJEU’s approach to see immunity, closely linked to public international law, distinct from the private international law notion of ‘civil and commercial’, quickly becomes nugatory in litigation practice. Neither does that approach answer the referring court’s question whether if the matter does fall within Brussels Ia, the ordinarily applicable Bulgarian rule that no such relief may be ordered against public authorities, must be set aside.

On the issue of provisional measures, the AG saw a plausible way forward by  a fairly standard application of the lis pendens rules (A29 ff) and by assessing the definitiveness of the measure and the impact of that assessment on the recognition, or not, of the decision of the court with subject-matter jurisdiction. The CJEU however merely emphasises the lack of formal hierarchy, in Brussels Ia, between the courts with subject-matter jurisdiction and those with jurisdiction for provisional measures. It concludes [60] that the latter are not bound to dismiss jurisdiction merely because a court with subject-matter jurisdiction has been either seized or has held in interim proceedings. It could certainly have found support in the Regulation’s intention to, and provisions designed for, avoid(ing) conflicting decisions.

Geert.

EU Private International law, 3rd ed 2021, 2.512ff, 2.550 ff, 5.584 ff.

CHEP. When employees’ alleged conspiracy ‘relates to’ contract of employment.

CHEP Equipment Pooling BV v ITS Ltd & Ors [2021] EWHC 2485 (Comm) concerns in the main when a claim between two parties who are in a relation of employment, ‘relates to’ that employment contract. (In the case concerned, leading to lack of jurisdiction against one of the defendants).

At issue is whether 3 former senior employees had essentially defrauded claimant by negotiating on its behalf, price-inflated audit and supply agreements with corporations which those employees (in)directly owned and /or controlled. Causes of action are breach of fiduciary duty; dishonest assistance of the breaches of fiduciary duty by the other former employees; and unlawful means conspiracy.

Whether any of these claims engage A22 jurisdiction needs to be assessed viz each claim separately: [44]: Cuneo Resources NV and others v Daskalakis and others [2019] EWHC 87 (Comm).  Among others Bosworth was discussed in the subsequent analysis. After reviewing ia the employment history of defendant with the claimant, and the bond between the alleged dishonesty and the employment contract,  Jacobs J concludes [107]

the claims relate to Mr de Laender’s contract of employment, and also …the connection between Mr de Laender’s contract and the conduct relied upon is material. It cannot be described as tenuous, or a small part of the picture, or simply part of the history. I also consider that the legal basis of the claims can reasonably be regarded as a breach of his contract, so that it is indispensable to consider the contract in order to resolve the matters in dispute.

Obiter the judge reviews locus delicti commissi and locus damni under A7(2). For Handlungsort, Jacobs J holds that the claimant has the better of the argument that that is located in England: particularly seeing as the main alleged conspirator was domiciled in England at the time the various strands of the action materialised. For locus damni – Erfolgort, the conclusion [133] is one of Mozaik per Shevill, particularly in view of a corporate reorganisation (incl a move to England) which occurred midway through the conspiracy.

Geert.

Rantos AG in TOTO. Important considerations on lis pendens and provisional measures, and on contractual drafting of choice of court.

Advocate General Rantos opined two weeks ago in C-581/20 Skarb Państwa Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej reprezentowany przez Generalnego Dyrektora Dróg Krajowych i Autostrad v TOTO SpA – Costruzioni Generali et al. – I propose we shorthand the case as ‘TOTO’.

Following public procurement, the Polish treasury granted the works for the construction of a stretch of motorway to an Italian consortium. In the contract, choice of court is made for Poland. The necessary guarantees eg for payment of fines in the event of late completion, were underwritten by a Bulgarian insurance company, whose guarantee is subject to Polish law. The consortium  to no avail sought negative declaratory relief (with a view to obtaining a finding that no fines are due under the contract) and injunctive relief (with a view to prohibiting the Polish authorities from exercising the guarantee) with the Polish court with substance matter jurisdiction. However it subsequently secured the injunctive relief from a Bulgarian court with Article 35 Brussels Ia provisional measures jurisdiction. This relief expressed itself inter alia in custodial attachment of the guarantees which the Polish authorities had sought to exercise with a European Order for Payment form. That Bulgarian relief is now before the Bulgarian Supreme Court.

The questions before the court are  whether the provisional measures can at all be ordered under the A35 gateway given that they might concern acta iure imperii and not civil and commercial matters; and if the matter is within the scope of BIa, whether the A35 court may still order such measures if the court with subject-matter jurisdiction has denied them. Finally, whether if the issue is within the scope of BIa, the ordinarily applicable Bulgarian rule that no such relief may be ordered against public authorities, must be set aside.

The Advocate-General suggests the Court settle the questions mainly by recourse to the lis pendens rule of A29 ff of the Regulation, rather than by the alternative of focusing on the ‘provisional’ nature of the measures imposed by the A35 court. A29 ff do not limit their application to substance matter proceedings hence if and when the lis pendens conditions are met, the court last seized must (identical cases) or may (related cases) relinquish its jurisdiction. The opposite is true, as well: if the A35 court has been seized first, the court with subject-matter jurisdiction has been gazumped at least for provisional measures.

The AG also (55 ff) suggests that choice of court must be read to include authority for the chosen court to issue provisional measures, but not (unless expressly agreed; an issue of contractual interpretation which must be left to the national judge to assess) the exclusion of other courts to exercise their A35 jurisdiction.

Finally if the court with subject-matter jurisdiction has taken a definitive decision viz the provisional measures, that decision travels under Title III BIa and A45 does not seem to offer room to object to recognition and enforcement. Should that decision not yet be definitive, the ordinary lis pendens rules must apply.

This is a case with rather important contractual drafting and civil procedure consequences.

Geert.

EU Private International law, 3rd ed 2021, 2.512ff, 2.550 ff, 5.584 ff.

 

Commerzbank. Sanchez-Bordona AG on the timing of the ‘international’ element required to trigger consumer protection in private international law (here: Lugano).

Sanchez-Bordona AG Opined last week in C-296/20 Commerzbank AG v E.O, a case on the consumer section of the Lugano Convention however in essence on the international element required to trigger consumer protection in private international law. The distinguishing feature of this case lies in the fact that, at the time when the contract was concluded, both parties were domiciled in the same State (Germany), whereas, when recovery was sought through the courts, the customer was domiciled in Switzerland.

The international nature of the situation therefore came about subsequently rather than being present at the outset.

The Advocate General is absolutely right to point to the objective of the consumer section of Lugano, and indeed Brussels Ia, to protect the consumer as the economically weaker party; and in C-98/20 mBank, the Court held that the consumer’s domicile needs to be determined at the time of the instigation of the suit, not the conclusion of the contract (or a later date in the proceedings) even in those circumstances where the consumer failed to inform the professional party of the change of domicile.

The AG however also insists on the predictability of forum both as claimant and as defendant, for the economic operator.

His provisional conclusion therefore (73-74), following analysis of the travaux, is that the international element needs to be present at the outset. However then comes the oddity of A17(3) Lugano, which mirrors A19(3) Brussels Ia:

‘The provisions of this Section may be departed from only by an agreement [conferring jurisdiction]:… 3. which is entered into by the consumer and the other party to the contract, both of whom are at the time of conclusion of the contract domiciled or habitually resident in the same State bound by this Convention, and which confers jurisdiction on the courts of that State, provided that such an agreement is not contrary to the law of that State.’

[With respect to the last element of this Article, it is indeed by no means certain that national law allows for such agreement and the AG (87) notes same].

The Jenard Report viz the Brussels 1968 Convention explains that that rule was included for reasons of equity to benefit a seller or lender domiciled in the same State as the buyer or borrower in the case where the latter establish themselves abroad after the contract has been concluded. The AG opines that the purely domestic setting of A17(3) must not be extended to the remainder of the consumer section, instead keeping it confined to the particular circumstances of that subsection.

In subsidiary fashion, the AG proposes that if the CJEU does not follow him on the generally required international element at the outset, it limit the extensive  application of the consumer section to cases where the economic operator pursues in the State of the consumer’s new domicile a trade or profession such as that which gave rise to the conclusion of the contract.

Interesting.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, 2.222 ff.

Yet again on distinguishing contract from tort (and on enforcement jurisdiction). Saugmandsgaard Oe reigns in forum delicti and forum contractus in HRVATSKE ŠUME.

Saugmandsgaard Oe AG opined (no English version at the time of writing) last week in C‑242/20 HRVATSKE ŠUME on the classic conflict of laws issue of distinguishing contract from tort.. He, oddly perhaps, unless some technical reason for it escapes me, does not entertain the question on the scope of Article 24(5) Brussels Ia’s exclusive jurisdictional rule for ‘proceedings concerned with the enforcement of judgments’.

The Opinion is a Qualificationfest.

The case concerns actions for recovery of sums unduly paid, in other words, undue enrichment. This enrichment came about by a Croatian court having  earlier ordered Hrvatske Šume, debtor of  Futura, both of Croatia, to pay its debt to Futura directly to BP Europe SA, successor to Burmah Oil, both domiciled in Germany. Hrvatske appealed that order however that appeal did not halt the payment. Now that the appeal has turned out to be successful, Hrvatske want their money back yet so far Croatian courts have held that they do not have jurisdiction under Article 7(2) BIa (the case actually went under the the predecessor, Brussels I however there is no material difference).

As the referring court notes, there is no delicti commissi in the case of unjust enrichment: it is a non-contractual obligation in which no delict is committed. (This is the very reason Rome II includes a separate heading for unjust enrichment). One might suggest this would leave forum damni only under A7(2), however the AG correctly in my view re-emphasises the seminal statements in CJEU Kalfelis, that actions under A7(2) concern ‘all actions which seek to establish liability of a defendant  and which are not related to a ‘contract’ within the meaning of Article [7](1)’. Unjust enrichment not seeking to establish liability, A7(2) is not engaged. Along the way, note his discussion of linguistics and his seeking support in Rome II.

At 71 ff the AG distinguishes the wide interpretation of ‘establishing liability’ in CJEU Austro Mechana.

A clear implication of the Opinion is that it confirms a disjoint in BIa /Rome II: not all non-contractual obligations for which Rome II identifies a lex causae, are caught by A7(2) BIa’s forum delicti rule.

The AG also engages with the possibility of Croatia being forum contractus  (he kicks off his Opinion with this issue) and dismisses it, seeking support inter alia in CJEU Handte and also in Rome II specifically providing for an unjust enrichment heading. This part of the Opinion is more optimistically straightforward than one might have expected. Following flightright, Wikingerhof etc., A7(1) has been (unduly, in my view) stretched and it would be good to have the CJEU further clarifying same. (C-265/21, in which I have been instructed, might be just the case).

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, 2.419 ff.

Flowers v Centro Medico. Brussels Ia’s insurance issues stayed pending CJEU authority, and disputable conclusions on the consumer section.

Flowers & Ors v Centro Medico Salus Baleares SL & Anor [2021] EWHC 2437 (QB) is a case packed with jurisdictional complication under Brussels Ia. In early February 2020, Mrs Yvonne Flowers, then 67 years of age, was admitted on an emergency basis to a private hospital facility in Benidorm, Spain, with significant back discomfort and pain arising from spinal disc herniation. Nine days later she died in the same hospital from multiple organ failure having contracted sepsis. T

The principal issues at stake concern the level of proof required for a jurisdictional challenge; determination of domicile; the existence of a consumer contract and who can all avail themselves of the consequential jurisdictional rules; and when a matter ‘relates to’ insurance’.

Starting with the latter, Wood J stayed judgment on much of the issues until the CJEU will have ruled in C-708/20 Betty Tattersall,  on which James Beeton reports here and which engages similar issues as CJEU Cole, settled before judgment, and Hutchinson. Betty Tattersall will be a crucial judgment.

The level of proof for jurisdictional challenges was discussed at an extraordinary length in Brownlie, and the SC’s ruling is applied here as detailed in the judgment.

The claimants’ domicile is not ordinarily relevant under BIa but it is for the consumer and insurance title and its determination is subject to national law. Seeing as the judge finds a good arguable case that domicile is indeed established in England, no consideration of Spanish domicile rules is necessary.

The ‘newer’ elements of the case are first of all the existence of a consumer contract. There are 3 issues [67]: (i) Was there a contract between the late Mrs Flowers and Centro Medico? (ii) If there was, was it a consumer contract within the meaning of section 4 BIa? (iii) Does the Claimant’s claim against Centro Medico fall outside the scope of the consumer contracts section because it has not been brought by the “consumer” within the meaning of the section?

Ia Committeri is relied on and the judge has little hesitation [115] to find the existence of a contract. (Much about that has been written in German scholarship in the specific area of medical services).

Surprisingly though, the question whether there is a contract which meets with the A17 requirements is brushed over when it comes to the question whether the hospital directs its activities to England and Wales, which the court established as the relevant  domicile. Particularly in the context of emergency care, this does not seem to be a given.

The judge does enquire as to whether the claim which can no longer be pursued because the contracting (and thus weaker) party is now deceased, can be picked up by heirs in the same jurisdictional gateway and pursued on the basis of the domicile of either the deceased or the heirs. Schrems and KABEG are discussed, however unlike the first instance judge in Bonnie Lackey, Justice Wood [126] adopts a much less wide approach. There must be scope for a lot more discussion on this, for the scenario in Bonnie Lackey, of which I was critical, is quite different from that of the heirs who step in the  litigation shoes of the deceased.

Geert.

EU Private international law, 3rd ed. 2021, big chunks of Chapter 2.

Bank Melli Iran: How corporate social responsibility reports may act as a shield in export controls law.

A short (and late – I am in mopping-up mood it seems) post on the AG’s Opinion in Case C‑124/20 Bank Melli Iran – in which he also cites my former colleague proximus Cédric Ryngaert. Hogan AG’s Opinion addresses the rock and the hard stone, or the devil and the deep blue sea dilemma facing corporations in the light of diverging export laws /sanctions law. May a German bank refuse to do business indeed end business with an Iranian bank, under pressure from US secondary export control laws?

More on the external relations aspects of the case is ia here and of course in the Opinion itself. My interest here lies in part of the Opinion: the AG’s view that an EU undertaking seeking to terminate an otherwise valid contract with an Iranian entity subject to the US sanctions must demonstrate to the  satisfaction of the national court that it did not do so by reason of its desire to comply with those sanctions. It must show other motives, such as ethical reservations about doing business with Iran. These reservations may be documented by a genuinely rolled-out CSR compliance program: (88)

‘In order, however, to establish that the reasons given in respect of any decision to terminate a contract on this ground were in fact sincere, the person referred to in Article 11 of the EU blocking statute in question − in the present case Telekom Deutschland – would need, in my view, to demonstrate that it is actively engaged in a coherent and systematic corporate social-responsibility policy (CSR) which requires them, inter alia, to refuse to deal with any company having links with the Iranian regime.’

CSR programs have been used as carrot ia in Trafigura and as stick ia in Vedanta. The view here is very much the carrot or if one likes, the shield function: CSR policies as a defensive weapon against the rock and hard stone dilemma. That is most interesting for the EU corporations concerned and likely to draw the attention of export sanctions practitioners (both in-house and out) to part of the corporation’s blurb which they may otherwise ignore. Yet it may put too much emphasis on fairly unregulated CSR policy drafting, and compliance issues.

Geert.

Nestle & Cargill v John Doe at the US Supreme Court. A further restriction of jurisdiction under ATS, with encouragement on corporate culpability as a pudding.

Update 8 September 2021 note the French Supreme Court’s less restrictive approach to ‘aiding and abetting’ in the (criminal law) judgment re Lafarge yesterday. It held complicity in a crimes against humanity case does not require hands-on assistance. As Philip Grant reports, in the view of the French SC it is necessary and sufficient to have had knowledge of the preparation or commission of such acts and that aid or assistance facilitated them; it is not necessary to belong to the criminal organization nor to subscribe to the conception or execution of the criminal plan.

A most late flag on Nestlé & Cargill v John Doe at the US Supreme Court, back in June. I reported on the case here and if you follow Lucas’ thread on the case, there is further interesting and impromptu analysis. Readers of the blog may know I have published on the issue before – search tag ‘ATS’ should give you all cases referred to below.

This case reconfirms the mood viz the Alien Tort Statute,  a popular (if not the only!) vehicle for corporate social responsibility litigation: since Kiobel, the USSC has seriously reigned in the scope of application of the ATS. In Nestlé, it would seem to impose a further squeeze on the ATS jurisdictional gateway. In Apartheid and Jesner Bank, ‘aiding and abetting’ by the US corporate headquarters of culpable conduct by their subsidiaries abroad, seemed to be a burden of proof claimants had to meet in order for the action to be admissible under the ATS. In Nestlé the Court in its current composition (sub III of the majority Opinion) suggests that aiding and abetting in that interpretation risks becoming a court-introduced (hence in its view noli sequi) action in tort.

Sub II, the Court is not at all clear what the jurisdictional hurdle might be, except that it is a very high one: ‘Nearly all the conduct that [claimants] say aided and abetted forced labor—providing training, fertilizer, tools, and cash to overseas farms—occurred in Ivory Coast… allegations of general corporate activity—like decisionmaking—cannot alone establish domestic application of the ATS.’ (Interesting contrast here with the UKSC in ia Vedanta).

Not only could one debate whether this decision represents the intention of the ATS (which, even if one applies it in limited fashion, did historically mean to catch at least in part activities outside of the US). One also immediately sees the most unattractive consequence of this judgment: as long as the dirty work is left for foreign affiliates to carry out overseas, one escapes the reach of ATS. As Lucas points out, it is not clear what kind of headquarter engagement could still trigger a suit under the ATS.

There is little solace in the indication that the Court (both in majority opinion and minority concurrence) accepts that corporations are not as such immune from suit under the ATS (which links to the issues currently discussed in Nevsun Resources). Update 8 September 2021 more on that issue by Doug Cassel here.

There will be more attempts to further refine the ATS scope. At the same time one imagines claimants will study in even greater detail than before, the possibility to bring the suit under more recent US federal laws with clear extraterritorial intent, such as in the field of corruption of export controls. As past (but now gone) ATS litigation shows, human rights and /or environmental suit need not necessarily label themselves as such.

Nomen non est omen. It is the end goal of human rights or environmental protection or, say, environmental justice which determines a suit’s character, no matter what prima facie subject matter the suit addresses. If one can advance these causes by suing under the by-laws of the World Philately Federation, say, one should have a good go at it.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Chapter 7.

Forever chemicals, and suing 3M for PFAS pollution in Europe. A flag on applicable law.

On Friday, together with my learned colleague at both Bar and Faculty Isabelle Larmuseau, I was asked to put my environmental law hat on at the Flemish Parliament. I was heard  on the current scandal hitting Flanders following PFAS (‘forever chemicals’) emissions by 3 M at the port of Antwerp. For background to PFAS see here.

Isabelle’s slidedeck for same is here (updated at 09:28 on 31 August to correct earlier pdf which contained an earlier version of the slides), and mine here. Both are in Dutch, with Isabelle’s focusing on the Flemish environmental law angle (albeit with strong EU law influence, necessarily) and mine on the EU and international law context).

Focus of the debate is on environmental /public health law however for my conflicts followers there is a treat. A civil law suit by Belgian and /or other [the port of Antwerp is very close for instance to the Dutch border. Emissions in air, water and soil (for the latter, particularly if exported) clearly impact Dutch citisens, say] claimants against 3M’s Belgian corporate presence is easily pursued both in Belgium (Article 4 Brussels Ia) and in other Member States (Article 7(2) locus damni). Residual private international law in all these States would fairly straightforwardly allow for the suit to be extended to 3M’s corporate mother, based at St Paul, Minnesota.

The more exciting bit is applicable law. The impact of common US (State) law on forever chemicals suits is well documented. Despite EU courts not willing to apply the punitive damages elements of these suits, an application of the other elements of US tort law may well be very attractive to claimants here. Those US laws are certainly within reach of claimants, using Article 7 Rome II. There is no question the damage ‘arises out of’ environmental damage (unlike the hesitation in Begum v Maran). There is certainly merit in the suggestion that locus delicti commissi is in St Paul, Minessota. Like with its fellow manufacturers and industrial users of PFAS, 3M’s worldwide grip on corporate communication and legal strategy on the issue is tight. More importantly, the decision tree on the manufacture, use and emissions of PFAS is arguably equally located at holding level. Reference here can be made to the relevance of Shell’s holding policy in lex causae determination in the recent climate ruling.

Clearly, via A17 Rome II, Flemish and of course European environmental law would play a role (cue Isabelle’s slidedeck for an excellent starter).

A collective action procedure in say The Netherlands in my view would be an ideal strategy to test these most murky waters.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd. ed. 2021, Chapter 4, Heading 4.6.3 (4.54 ff).

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