Garcia v Total Gabon: Stay of English proceedings with (potential) lis alibi ex-EU.

Thank you very much indeed Sarah Venn and Emma Hynes both for flagging Garcia v BIH, Total Gabon and Sigma, [2017] EWHC 739 (Admlty), and (Emma) for providing me with copy (Bailii are not yet running it). This case is extremely suited to an oral exam of conflict of laws: in a written exam to many issues would have to be discussed. (Mine this term are mostly written. Hence I’ll run this piece early).

Claimant is a French national who worked as a professional diver offshore Gabon, West Africa, and suffered catastrophic brain injury which he blames on poor working practices on the second defendant’s site (Total Gabon), which is where he was working. He was employed by first defendant BIH, a UK based company, with choice of court and governing law made for English courts cq English law. First defendant is clearly domiciled in the UK and the Brussels I Regulation clearly applies to it. The third defendant Sigma, was contracted by Total Gabon. Claimant’s position is that he was deployed by BIH to work under the control of Sigma on the site which was, or should have been, supervised by Total Gabon. Total Gabon claim the contractual relationships between it and Sigma prevent a claim against the former.

BIH is small fish which may even have been struck off the company register. It is clear that plaintiff will not receive from BIH the amounts he needs for his constant medical care.

A default judgment was issued against BIG who did not engage with proceedings – at any rate jurisdiction against BIG per Owusu (with which readers of this blog are now ad nauseam familiar) could not be dismissed; . Total Gabon contest jurisdiction on the basis that England and Wales is not the appropriate forum.

This is not said in so many words in the Judgment however the presence of an anchor defendant per Article 4 Brussels I Recast, is of no relevance where the co-defendants are not domiciled in the EU. The regulation cannot be used to justify such anchor, residual conflicts rules take over.

Jervis Kay QC AR considers many cases which I have reported on before: VTB, Owusu, Lungowe, Spiliada. Lungowe in particular is considered by Mr Kay, including the issue of abuse of the use of anchor defendants and (at 23 in fine) the acknowledgment, implicitly (I wrote it explicitly in my review of the case) that of course EU precedent in this respect is pro inspiratio only.  Applying English residual conflicts rules, the judge then reviews whether there is a serious case (‘a real prospect of succeeding’) that could be made against Total Gabon, either one in tort or one in contractual liability. He found there is such real prospect, for both, but especially for tort.

However the case eventually (access to justice issues in Gabon were not flagged neither discussed) stumbles on the question whether the English courts would be the most appropriate forum: it is found they are not. Inspiration is found especially in Erste Group Bank [2015] EWCA Civ 379, a case in which forum non conveniens was applied even against an England-domiciled defendant because there had already been submission to Russian jurisdiction. In Garcia, the Court applies Erste per analogiam: the parallel, Mr Kay suggests, is that the case against the first defendant has effectively been wrapped up. The spectre of competing judgments therefore, Mr Kay holds, does not arise (at 36) and England is therefore not the appropriate forum. If the case is appealed I would imagine this altogether brief consideration of appropriateness and the parallel seen with Erste, I would imagine would be its Achiless heel.

(One of the considerations which defendant, per VTB, considers, is that as a rule of thumb, Gleichlauf is to be preferred (I have often found this a less attractive part of the Supreme Court’s ruling). Which is why defendant considers Rome II: if the English courts were to hear the case, they would have to apply Rome II even if their jurisdiction is a result of residual English conflicts rules).

An alternative action for Mr Garcia, one imagines, would have been (or perhaps it still is) to use Total France SA as anchor in France, to try and have the subsidiary’s actions assigned to it: a more classic CSR case.

Anyways, I think you will agree that one could have a good chinwag on this judgment at oral exam.

Geert.

, , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Kokott AG in Polbud. It walks and talks like confirming precedent. But does it?

This post could have also carried the title ‘Pro real seat theory. Bud is it?’ [Polbud, Probud, you see…], but with all the Brexit shenanigans going on on Twitter I am somewhat running dry of pun headlines.

I do indeed wonder the following: Kokott AG Opined in C-106/16 Polbud on 4 May, Gillis Lindemans pondered the Opinion (in Dutch) early May – I’have had the Opinion and one or two other things on my mind since.

As Ms Kokott summarises, the present request for a preliminary ruling concerns Polbud’s plan to change its legal form to that of a private limited liability company governed by Luxembourg law. Since Luxembourg, like all other Member States, requires as a condition of incorporation and continued existence under national law that companies have a statutory seat in national territory, such a plan necessarily entails the transfer of Polbud’s statutory seat. Indeed, this appears to have been achieved inasmuch as Consoil was entered in the Luxembourg Companies Register. It must now be clarified, in essence, whether the freedom of establishment precludes that arrangement. What sets the situation in this case apart is the fact that, according to the information contained in the request for a preliminary ruling, the cross-border conversion is not accompanied by a change to the centre of the company’s commercial activities. The referring court asks whether, in that context, the freedom of establishment is applicable (third question), whether that freedom has been restricted (first question) and, if so, whether that restriction is justifiable (second question).

The AG takes us through relevant precedent (readers of the blog will have seen my reviews at the time of judgment): one is best left to simply read her Opinion.  Ms Kokott concludes that the freedom of establishment provided for in Articles 49 and 54 TFEU only applies to an operation whereby a company incorporated under the law of one Member State transfers its statutory seat to another Member State with the aim of converting itself into a company governed by the law of the latter Member State, in so far as that company actually establishes itself in the other Member State, or intends to do so, for the purpose of pursuing genuine economic activity there.

In other words she most  definitely proposes a test along the lines suggested by Darmon AG in Daily Mail, but rejected by La Pergola AG in Centros. So far, so good: AG’s often propose a change of tack, most famously Poiares Maduro in Cartesio. Except, Ms Kokott suggests the Opinion is a simple confirmation of the CJEU’s case-law on the issue: no change of tack. Simply confirmation ex multi. That now does leave me puzzled: the Opinion walks and talks like confirming old precedent; but it does not, surely?

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 7.

, , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

No sugar rush. CJEU rejects appeal in Dextro Energy labelling case.

The CJEU held yesterday in Case C-296/16P Dextro Energy (text of judgment available in French and German only at the time of posting), an appeal against the General Court’s ruling in T-100/15. The General Court had declined to annul the European Commission Regulation which refused to authorise certain health claims made on foods, other than those referring to the reduction of disease risk and to children’s development and health. Dextro Energy had wanted to include health claims such as  ‘glucose supports normal physical activity’ and ‘glucose contributes to normal muscle function’. The EC had refused: citing (in Regulation 1215/8)

‘Pursuant to Articles 6(1) and 13(1) of Regulation … No 1924/2006 health claims need to be based on generally accepted scientific evidence. Authorisation may also legitimately be withheld if health claims do not comply with other general and specific requirements of Regulation … No 1924/2006, even in the case of a favourable scientific assessment by [EFSA]. Health claims inconsistent with generally accepted nutrition and health principles should not be made. [EFSA] concluded that a cause and effect relationship has been established between the consumption of glucose and contribution to energy-yielding metabolism. However, the use of such a health claim would convey a conflicting and confusing message to consumers, because it would encourage consumption of sugars for which, on the basis of generally accepted scientific advance, national and international authorities inform the consumer that their intake should be reduced. Therefore, such a health claim does not comply with point (a) of the second paragraph of Article 3 of Regulation … No 1924/2006 which foresees that the use of claims should not be ambiguous or misleading. Furthermore, even if the concerned health claim was to be authorised only under specific conditions of use and/or accompanied by additional statements or warnings, it would not be sufficient to alleviate the confusion of the consumer, and consequently the claim should not be authorised.’

The General Court performed its standard review in the face of a wide discretionary room for manoeuvre for the EC, and decided the EC had not exceeded its authority in holding as it did – even in the face of more lenient EFSA recommendations. The Court of Justice has now entirely sided with the General Court. The Judgment is a good reminder of aforementioned standard test (no de novo or merits review; annulment in the event of manifest transgression of power or error in judgment only), and readers best refer to reading the judgment itself.

One consideration however, I should like to highlight: Dextro Energy had suggested the health claims needed to be assessed in light of the target group (determined in the product’s advertising), which, it was suggested, were physically active people for whom consumption of the glucose tablets in question is not harmless. The Court rejected this approach: the population as a whole, for whom the product is available, are the group which the EC justifiably seeks to protect. The manufacturer’s professed target group is not the relevant group to consider (do bear in mind that this is a product which is widely available and not restricted in any way at points of sale):

At 76-77: si les allégations de santé en cause étaient autorisées, elles s’adresseraient à la population en général, pouvant ainsi encourager la consommation de sucres par les personnes autres que les hommes et les femmes bien entraînés. Dans ces conditions, le Tribunal n’a pas commis d’erreur de droit lorsqu’il a rejeté, au point 57 de l’arrêt attaqué, l’argument de Dextro Energy, selon lequel c’était le groupe cible qui importait aux fins de l’appréciation des allégations de santé en cause.

Geert.

 

 

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Shenzhen CTS v Dajiang International Investment: ‘in limine’ can’t be early enough.

Another posting for the ‘comparative conflicts /dispute resolution’ binder. In order not to be found to have voluntary appeared (‘submitted to jurisdiction’), civil procedure rules worldwide require defendants to flag their opposition to jurisdiction early on in the proceedings. Indeed at the threshold of the litigation: in limine litis.

In EU law, the Court of Justice ruled in Elefanten Schuh that where civil procedure of the Member States requires a defence on the merits at the very earliest opportunity, such defence does not jeopardise objection to jurisdiction made at the same occasion. (Case-law now reflected in the wording of the Brussels I Regulation and its Recast successor).

There is as yet however no CJEU case-law on what level of interaction with the courts leads to submission.

In England, Zumaz Nigeria v First City [2016] EWCA Civ 567 recently held that application for disclosure does not entail submission: for one may need those very documents to contest jurisdiction.

Thank you RPC for now flagging Shenzhen CTS International Logistics Co Ltd v Dajiang International Investment Co Ltd. The court found that by applying to strike out the claim and seeking security for costs (to include the period after the hearing of the stay application), defendant had invoked the jurisdiction of the Hong Kong courts. As always of course the decision was based on factual merit which RPC’s David Smyth and Hannah Fletcher  summarise very well in the posting hyperlinked above.

Beware before you engage with the courts, if you do not wish to be seen as having submitted.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.7.

, , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Vulture funds (and Yukos) fail in Round 1 against Belgian enforcement regime viz sovereign immunity. No reference to Luxemburg on compatibility of Brussels I with international law.

I have reported earlier on the action of MNL Capital against the Belgian Vulture Fund Act of 12 July 2015 (Offical Gazette here, my EN translation here), on which I have a paper here.

Thank you Quentin Declève for alerting me to the Constitutional Court’s judgment on a related action (where MNL were joined by Yukos) namely against the act of 23 August 2015 which introduced Article 1412quinquies in the Belgian Judicial Code. It is noteworthy that the action against the Act of July has not yet been decided by the Court (that case number, for the aficionados, is 6371), at the least I have not been able to locate any judgment).

As Quentin summarises, as a general rule, Article 1412 quinquies of the Belgian Judicial Code provides that assets located in Belgium that belong to a foreign State are immune from execution and cannot be subject to enforcement proceedings by creditors. Exceptions to that rule are possible if very strict conditions are met: a party wishing to seize the assets belonging to a State needs to obtain a prior authorisation from a judge. This judge will only authorise the seizure if (i) the foreign State has “expressively” and “specifically” consented to the seizure of the assets; (ii) the foreign State has specifically allocated those assets to the enforcement of the claim which gives rise to the seizure; and (iii) the assets are located in Belgium and are allocated to an economic or commercial activity.

The Court has now annulled the word ‘specifically’ but has otherwise left the Act intact. Quentin summarises how the Court found that this proviso is not part of international law on State immunity.

Now, picking up where Quentin left: part of applicants’ arguments relate to Brussels I Recast. The argument is made that Belgium with its Act re-introduces exequatur, now that is has been abolished by the Recast. Belgium’s Government seems to argue that the law relating to seizure has public order character and hence is covered by the ordre public exception of the Brussels I Recast Regulation, and that seizure in Belgium which would go against public international customary law on State immunity, along the same lines would be covered by the ordre public exception of the Recast (para A.5.2, p.6).

The Court (at B.29.1 ff, .34 ff) deals with the Brussels I arguments very very succinctly: it refers to Article 41(1) which other than the substantive requirements of title III, makes recognition and enforcement subject to the law of the State of enforcement. The Court also says enforcement is not entirely obstructed: some of the foreign entities’ assets remain subject to seizure; and there are other ways of enforcement other than seizure. Finally the Court suggests that the Brussels I Recast surely must not be applied in a way which would be incompatible with international customary law. By rejecting the suggestion for a prelimary reference to Luxembourg (suggestion made by the Belgian State, unusually), the Court clearly believes that call is not one that has to be made by Luxembourg. Pitty: that would have been an interesting reference.

Again, NML Capital’s action against the Vulture Fund Act is still ongoing, lest I have missed withdrawal. As I noted in my paper, this Act I believe is wanting on various grounds, including some related to the New York Convention and the Brussels I Recast.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.16, Heading 2.2.16.1.4.

, , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Uneasy cohabitation. Kareda v Benkö: special jurisdictional rules (contract or tort) for a recourse claim brought between jointly and severally liable debtors.

Ergo, Brogsitter, Granarolo...There is a long list of cases in which the CJEU is asked to decide whether a relationship between parties is contractual, with special jurisdiction determined by Article 7(1) of the Brussels I Recast Regulation, or one in tort, subject to Article 7(2) of same.

In C-249/16 Saale Kareda v Stefan Benkö Bot AG opined end of April. The Court is asked to rule on whether a recourse claim brought between jointly and severally liable debtors under a credit agreement constitutes a contractual claim. And if it is, the Court will have to examine whether such an agreement may be classified as an agreement for the provision of services, which will, as the case may be, lead it to determine the place of performance of its characteristic obligation.

I still think that what I dubbed the ancestry or pedigree test of Sharpston AG in Ergo, is a most useful litmus test to distinguish between 7(1) and 7(2):  what is the ancestry of the action, without which the parties concerned would not be finding themselves pleading in a court of law?: she uses ‘centre of gravity’ (‘the centre of gravity of the obligation to indemnify is in the contractual obligation’); ‘rooted in’ (‘the recourse action by one insurer against the other…is rooted in the contracts of insurance’); and ‘intimately bound up’ (‘[the action] is intimately bound up with the two insurers’ contractual obligation‘). (at 62 of her Opinion in Ergo). I am not sure though whether the Court itself follows the test.

Before the Austrian courts, Stefan Benkö, an Austrian national, is bringing a recourse claim against Saale Kareda, an Estonian national and his former partner, seeking payment of EUR 17 145.41 plus interest and costs. While they were living together in Austria, the applicant and the defendant bought a house in 2007 and for that purpose took out three loans totalling EUR 300 000 (‘the loan’) from an Austrian bank. They were both borrowers and the referring court states that they were both jointly and severally liable debtors. Ms Kareda broke up with Mr Benkö, moved back to Estonia, and ceased her loan payments. Being sued for the arrear payments by MR Benko, she now claims that the Landesgericht St. Pölten (Regional Court, St. Pölten), the court seised by the applicant, lacked territorial jurisdiction in so far as the loan was made by an Austrian bank and the place of performance for that loan, the bank’s registered office, is not located in the judicial district of that court.

Is it possible to ‘detach’ from the credit agreement the legal relationships arising between jointly and severally liable debtors following the conclusion of that agreement, or does this form an inseparable whole? (at 28) Bot AG suggests it is the latter and I believe he is right. I agree that it would be artificial, for the purposes of the application of the Brussels I Recast. to separate those legal relationships from the agreement which gave rise to them and on which they are based.

I am less convinced by the reference, at 32 and 33, to the need for consistency between Brussels I Recast and Rome I: regular readers of this blog will not be surprised by this. (But I believe I am fighting a losing battle there). The AG refers to Article 16 of Rome I, entitled ‘Multiple liability’, which provides inter alia that, ‘[i]f a creditor has a claim against several debtors who are liable for the same claim, and one of the debtors has already satisfied the claim in whole or in part, the law governing the debtor’s obligation towards the creditor also governs the debtor’s right to claim recourse from the other debtors’.

Having decided that the issue is contractual, the AG suggests the credit agreement is an agreement for the provision of services, and that in the context of a credit agreement, the characteristic obligation leading to jurisdiction is the actual granting of the sum loaned. The other obligation entailed by such an agreement, namely the borrower’s obligation to repay the sum loaned, exists only through the performance of the service by the lender, as repayment is merely its consequence.

The final element to consider is then the actual place of performance of the characteristic obligation. In the AG’s view, only the place where the creditor has its place of business is capable of ensuring that the rules are highly predictable and of satisfying the objectives of proximity and standardisation pursued by the second indent of Article 7(1)(b) of Regulation No 1215/2012.  That place will be known by the parties from the time of the conclusion of the agreement and will also be the place of the court having the closest connection with that agreement. (at 46).

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2, Heading 2.2.11.2.9

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Final judgment in Nikiforidis: Danke aber nein Danke.

Many thanks to Jan von Hein for flagging the ultimate judgment (the link is to a press release) of the Bundesarbeitsgericht in Nikiforidis. I had of course reported earlier my serious misgivings about the CJEU’s judgment in same, upon preliminary review.

The judgment eventually declined to employ the opening left by the CJEU, to take Greek law into account ‘as a matter of fact’. Thank you, but no thank you: there was no suitable point of entry in German law to take account of the Greek austerity laws. Still, as Jan points out, the judgment in Luxembourg undoubtedly will feature as precedent in future cases.

Geert.

 

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: