Petrobas securities class action firmly anchored in The Netherlands. Rotterdam court applying i.a. forum non conveniens under Brussels Ia.
Many thanks to Jeffrey Kleywegt and Robert Van Vugt for re-reporting Stichting Petrobas Compensation Foundation v PetrÓleo Brasilieiro SA – PETROBRAS et al. The case, held in September (judgment in NL and in EN) relates to a Brazilian criminal investigation into alleged bribery schemes within Petrobras, which took place between 2004 and 2014. the Court had to review the jurisdictional issue only at this stage, and confirmed same for much, but not all of the claims.
The Dutch internal bank for Petrobas, Petrobas Global Finance BV and the Dutch subsidiary of Petrobas, Petrobas Oil and Gas BV are the anchor defendants. Jurisdiction against them was easily established of course under Article 4 Brussels Ia.
Issues under discussion, were
Firstly, against the Dutch defendants: Application of the new Article 34 ‘forum non conveniens’ mechanism which I have reported on before re English and Gibraltar courts. At 5.45: defendants request a stay of the proceedings on account of lis pendens, until a final decision has been given in the United States, alternatively Brazil, about claims that are virtually identical to those brought by the Foundation. They additionally argue a stay on case management grounds. However the court finds
with respect to a stay in favour of the US, that
the US courts will not judge on the merits, since there is a class settlement; and that
for the proceedings in which these courts might eventually hold on the merits (particularly in the case of claimants having opted out of the settlement), it is unclear what the further course of these proceedings will be and how long they will continue. For that reason it is also unclear if a judgment in these actions is to be expected at ‘reasonably short notice’: delay of the proceedings is a crucial factor in the Article 34 mechanism.
with respect to a stay in favour of Brasil, that Brazilian courts unlike the Dutch (see below) have ruled and will continue to rule in favour of the case having to go to arbitration, and that such awards might not even be recognisable in The Netherlands (mutatis mutandis, the Anerkennungsprognose of Article 34).
Further, against the non-EU based defendants, this of course takes place under residual Dutch rules, particularly
Firstly Article 7(1)’s anchor defendants mechanism such as it does in Shell. The court here found that exercise of jurisdiction would not be exorbitant, as claimed by Petrobas: most of the claims against the Dutch and non-Dutch defendants are so closely connected as to justify a joint hearing for reasons of efficiency, in order to prevent irreconcilable judgments from being given in the event that the cases were heard and determined separately: a clear echo of course of CJEU authority on Article 8(1). The court also rejects the suggestion that application of the anchor mechanism is abusive.
It considers these issues at 5.11 ff: relevant is inter alia that the Dutch defendants have published incorrect, incomplete, and/or misleading financial information, have on the basis of same during the fraud period issued shares, bonds or securities and in that period have deliberately and wrongly raised expectations among investors. Moreover, at 5:15: Petrobras has itself stated on its website that it has a strategic presence in the Netherlands.
Against two claims ‘involvement’ of the NL-based defendants was not withheld, and jurisdiction denied.
Further, a subsidiary jurisdictional claim for these two rejected claims on the basis of forum necessitatis (article 9 of the Duch CPR) was not withheld: Brazilian authorities are clearly cracking down on fraud and corruption (At 5.25 ff).
Finally and again for these two remaining claims, are the Netherlands the place where the harmful event occurred (Handlungsort) and /or the place where the damage occurred (Erfolgsort)? Not so, the court held: at 5.22: the Foundation has not stated enough with regard to the involvement of the Dutch defendants in those claims, for the harmful event to be localised in the Netherlands with some sufficient force. As for locus damni and with echos of Universal Music: at 5.24: that the place where the damage has occurred is situated in the Netherlands, cannot be drawn from the mere circumstance that purely financial damage has directly occurred in the Dutch bank accounts of the (allegedly) affected investors – other arguments (see at 5.24) made by the Foundation did not convince.
Finally, an argument was made that the Petrobas arbitration clause contained in its articles of association, rule out recourse to the courts in ordinary. Here, an interesting discussion took place on the relevant language version to be consulted: the Court went for the English one, seeing as this is a text which is intended to be consulted by persons all over the world (at 5.33). The English version of article 58 of the articles of association however is insufficiently clear and specific: there is no designated forum to rule on any disputes covered by the clause. Both under Dutch and Brazilian law, the Court held, giving up the constitutional right of gaining access to the independent national court requires that the clause clearly states that arbitration has been agreed. That clarity is absent: the version consulted by the court read
“Art. 58 -It shall be resolved by means of arbitration [italics added, district court], obeying the rules provided by the Market Arbitration Chamber, the disputes or controversies that involve the Company, its shareholders, the administrators and members of the Fiscal Council, for the purposes of the application of the provision contained in Law n° 6.404, of 1976, in this Articles of Association, in the rules issued by the National Monetary Council, by the Central Bank of Brazil and by the Brazilian
Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as in the other rules applicable to the functioning of the capital market in general, besides the ones contained in the agreements eventually executed by Petrobras with the stock exchange or over-the-counter market entity, accredited by the Brazilian Securities and Exchange Commission, aiming at the adoption of standards of corporate governance established by these entities, and of the respective rules of differentiated practices of corporate governance, as the case may be.”
A very relevant and well argued case – no doubt subject to appeal.
(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed.2016, Chapter 2, almost in its entirety.
The Portuguese claimant’s vehicle was damaged in an accident in Spain in August 2015. He issued proceedings in Portugal in November 2016 to recover his uninsured losses. Under Portuguese law, the lex fori, the limitation period is 3 years. Under Spanish law, the lex causae per Rome II, limitation is fixed at 1 year.
The Court first of all re-emphasises the importance of co-ordinated interpretation of Rome I and II, here with respect to the terminology of the two Regulations which in the French version in particular differs with respect to the use of the term ‘lois de police’ (Article 9 Rome I) and ‘dispositions impératives dérogatoires’ (Article 16 Rome II). The lois de police of Rome I (albeit with respect to the Rome Convention 1980) had already been interpreted in Unamar, leading to the first of the two conditions discussed below.
The Court effectively held there is little limit content-wise to the possibility for courts to invoke the lois de police /overriding mandatory law provision of Article 9 Rome II. Despite Article 15 Rome II verbatim mentioning limitation periods as being covered by the lex causae (but see the confusion on that reported in my post on Kik this week), limitation periods foreseen in the lex fori may be given priority.
This is subject to two conditions:
firstly, the national court cannot interpret any odd lex fori provision as being covered by the lois de police exception: here the Court re-emphasises the Rome I /II parallel by making the Unamar test apply to Rome II: at 31: ‘the referring court must find, on the basis of a detailed analysis of the wording, general scheme, objectives and the context in which that provision was adopted, that it is of such importance in the national legal order that it justifies a departure from the applicable law.’ Here, the fact that limitation periods are mentioned in so many words in Article 15, comes into play: at 34: given that express reference, the application of the overriding mandatory law exception ‘would require the identification of particularly important reasons, such as a manifest infringement of the right to an effective remedy and to effective judicial protection arising from the application of the law designated as applicable pursuant to Article 4 of the Rome II Regulation.’
secondly, and of course redundantly but worth re-emphasising: the rule at issue must not have been harmonised by secondary EU law. As Alistair Kinley points out, the Motor Insurance Directive (MID) 2009/103 is currently being amended and a limitation period of minimum 4 years is being suggested – subject even to gold plating. That latter prospect of course opens up all sorts of interesting discussions particularly viz Article 3(4) Rome I.
(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.8, Heading 184.108.40.206.
Gloucester Resources: A boon for climate change law and ‘ecologically sustainable development’ in Australia.
Gloucester Resources v Minister for planning  NSWLEC 7 is perfect material for my international environmental law classes at Monash come next (Australian) winter (September). Proposition is a permit for an open cut coal mine. Consent was refused on the basis of 3 reasons: the creation and operation of an open cut coal mine in the proposed location is in direct contravention of each zone’s planning objectives; the residual visual impact of the mine would be significant throughout all stages of the Project; and the Project is not in the public interest. Refusal was evidently appealed.
Preston CJ, the Chief Judge of the Land and Environment Court of New South Wales delivered serious support for an internationally engaged Australian (New South Wales) climate law approach. Although he did cite the Paris Agreement (439 ff: providing context to Australia and NSW’s future challenges; and including an interesting discussion on the balanced measures that might be needed to achieve Australia’s Paris Goals, refuted at 534 ff) and the UNFCCC, he did not need Paris, Kyoto, UNFCCC or anything else ‘international’ to do so. He applied the NSW principle of ‘ecologically sustainable development’ (ESD; a notion which often rings tautologically to my ears).
A blog post cannot do justice to a 700 para judgment – Note the following paras:
At 694 ‘Acceptability of proposed development of natural resource depends not on location of natural resource but on sustainability. One of the ESD principles is sustainable use– exploiting natural resources in manner which is ‘sustainable’ ‘prudent’ ‘rational’ ‘wise’ ‘appropriate’
At 696 ‘In this case, exploitation of coal resource in Gloucester valley would not be sustainable use and would cause substantial environmental and social harm. The Project would have high visual impact over the life of the mine of about two decades. The Project would cause noise, air and light pollution that will contribute to adverse social impacts. Project will have significant negative social impacts; access to and use of infrastructure, services and facilities; culture; health and wellbeing; surroundings; and fears and aspirations…The Project will cause distributive inequity, both within the current generation and between the current and future generations.’
At 514: rejection of the relevance of the limited impact which the project will have on Australia’s GHG emissions overall, with reference to US (EPA v Massachusetts) and the Dutch Urgenda case.
No doubt appeal will follow – a case to watch.
French Supreme Court on cover by Lugano of legal fees in criminal proceedings – and the proper limits of the ordre public test.
The criminal courts at Geneva have condemned claimant, domiciled at France, to pay a criminal fine of 3,600.00 Swiss Francs, a well as 36,000.00 Swiss Francs towards defendant’s legal fees. The latter were incurred given that defendant in current legal proceedings had entered a civil claim in the Swiss criminal proceedings: a claim which the Geneva judge ordered to be settled through the Swiss courts in civil cases.
Upon fighting the request for exequatur, claimant first of all argues that the French courts’ acceptance of exequatur via the Lugano Convention is outside the scope of that Convention. The matter, he argues, is not civil or commercial seeing as the civil claim was not even entertained.
This of course brings one to the discussion on the scope of application of Lugano (and Brussels Ia) and the perennial difficulty of focusing on nature of the claim v nature of the underlying facts and exercised powers. Now, for civil claims brought before criminal courts there is not so much doubt per se, seeing inter alia that Article 7(3) Brussels Ia (Article 5(4) Lugano 2007) has a specific head of jurisdiction for such civil claims. Claimant’s point of argument here evidently is that this should not cover this particular claim seeing as the legal representation at issue turned out to be without purpose. Not being privy to the discussions that took place at the Geneva court, I evidently do not know the extent of discussion having taken place there (there is no trace of it in the Supreme Court judgment) however one assumes that the Geneva proceedings in theory could have dealt with the civil side of the litigation yet for a factual or legal reason eventually did not. Over and above the intensity of discussions being difficult to employ as a decisive criterion, one can also appreciate the difficulty in separating the civil from the criminal side of the argument made by defendant’s lawyers.
Of perhaps more general interest is the Supreme Court’s rebuke of the lower courts’ treatment of ordre public. Exequatur was granted because, the lower courts had held, the judge in the substantial proceedings has the sovereign right to establish costs under the relevant national procedure. This, it was suggested by these lower courts, shields it from ordre public scrutiny – a clear misunderstanding of the ordre public test. Part of the ordre public considerations had also been that the relative slide in the strength of the Swiss Franc v the Euro, and the generally higher costs of living in Switzerland, put the cost award in perspective. Moreover the judges found that there was insufficient information on the length of the proceedings in Switserland, and the complexity of the arguments. That, however, is exactly the kind of data which the judge in an exequatur assessment ough to gauge.
(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2n ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 220.127.116.11.
Danilina v Chernukin: how a very Russian case triggers the proper law of the contract under the Rome Convention.
A little bit of factual background is required to understand  EWHC 173 (Comm) Danilina v Chernukin. It concerns a valuable site in Central Moscow (readers of the blog and students of mine will now no longer wonder why this is being litigated in England) which is, indirectly, the subject of a Shareholder Agreement dated 31 May 2005 (the “SHA”). The issue is whether Vladimir Chernukhin, who is not named as a party to the SHA is in fact party to the SHA as a disclosed principal of Lolita Danilina, who is named as a party to the SHA. Mr. Chernukhin and Mrs. Danilina had been in a relationship; it is Mr. Chernukhin’s case that she was a named party because she was acting as his nominee or agent.
That is the purely business side of the litigation – there is also a family assets angle: Ms Danilina has a claim arising out of what she argues to have been an agreement between her and Mr. Chernukhin in 2007 for the division of their assets after their relationship had come to an end.
The latter issue is the ‘2007 Agreement’ and it is this which is of interest to the blog: Teare J at 324: Mrs. Danilina seeks to prove alleges the following, quite detailed, agreement: a) TGM would remain (as it always was) as an asset belonging to Mrs. Danilina and her alone; b) the assets accumulated between them jointly and which they regarded as family assets would be distributed between them on an effectively equal basis with: i) Mrs. Danilina retaining and/or taking those residential real property assets located within Russia, ii) Mr. Chernukhin having those residential real property assets located outside of Russia and iii) save for certain chattels such as cars and the weapon collection (which were to be owned by Mr. Chernukhin) and jewellery and artwork in Russia (which were to be owned by Mrs. Danilina), the balance of their assets would be split equally and Mrs. Danilina’s 50% share held in a trust for her benefit; c) a new structure would be required to reflect these agreements; and d) Mr. Chernukhin would be responsible for taking the necessary steps to give effect to the agreement.
Teare J starts with the bootstrap /von Munchausen: at 325: it is necessary to begin by considering what would be the governing law of the 2007 agreement, if it was made on the terms alleged by Mrs. Danilina. The reason for this is that it is submitted on behalf of Mr. Chernukhin that the agreement, if made, would be governed by Russian law, and that there are provisions of Russian law that affect the admissibility of witness testimony in proving the existence of an oral agreement. Being a contract entered into prior to 16 December 2009, the proper law of the 2007 Agreement would be determined under the Rome Convention on the law applicable to contractual obligations – not the later Rome Regulation.
Was there choice of law “expressed or demonstrated with reasonable certainty by … the circumstances of the case’ (per Article 3(1) Rome Convention? [I have included Articles 3 and 4 in relevant part below]
At 327 are cited (i) the fact that “Mr. Chernukhin had fled Russia in 2004 in an effort to make a clean break from Russian law and jurisdiction”; (ii) that Mrs. Danilina assisted him in moving to England, including by sending legal documents there; (iii) in 2007 Mr. Chernukhin was seeking English matrimonial law advice in relation to his assets, prior to his marriage to Mrs. Chernukhin. With Teare J I do not think this is sufficient to amount to a choice for the purposes of article 3. They do not amount to a positive choice of law “expressed or demonstrated with reasonable certainty.”
Consequently Article 4 is engaged.
Presumption of characteristic performance. It was submitted on behalf of Mrs. Danilina (at 328) that England is the “most closely connected” country, under the presumption in article 4(2). It is said that the characteristic performance under the agreement was to create the relevant trust structure for dividing, managing and investing the assets. The performer of these obligations was Mr. Chernukhin, who was and is resident in England. Teare J agrees: at 330: the characteristic performance of the agreement was primarily to be performed by Mr. Chernukhin. On Mrs. Danilina’s case, Mr. Chernukhin was entrusted to divide, invest and structure significant liquid and illiquid assets, of which Mrs. Danilina was in large part unaware.
Displacement of the presumption? Mrs. Danilina then submits that this presumption should not lightly be displaced.
This section discusses a core challenge to Article 4, which is the continental European but mostly EU-driven quest for predictability, with the more common law oriented search for the ‘proper’ law of the contract. In Article 4 terms (similarly under the current Article Rome I): per Samcrete Egypt Engineers v Land Rover Exports Ltd  EWCA Civ 2019, at , “unless art.4(2) is regarded as a rule of thumb which requires a preponderance of contrary connecting factors to be established before that presumption can be disregarded, the intention of the Convention is likely to be subverted.” Nonetheless, “the presumption may most easily be rebutted in those cases where the place of performance differs from the place of business of the party whose performance is characteristic of the contract” (See Bank of Baroda v Vysya Bank Ltd.  2 Lloyd’s Rep 87, 93, in the context of a bank’s place of central administration).
Teare J leans on Samcrete Egypt Engineers and rejects the suggestions made (at 329) to displace the presumption. There were that “the principal subject-matter was assets based in Russia / assets acquired using money generated in Russia and while the parties were resident in Russia.” Further, the Agreement is said to be “akin” to a divorce arrangement pursuant to the Russian Family Code, and of a relationship which occurred primarily or exclusively in Russia. Finally, the Agreement as alleged would have involved performance by both Mrs. Danilina and Mr. Chernukhin, distributing (including, where relevant, by re-registration of shares and real property) their various assets. However (at 330) ‘there are indeed some factors that might otherwise point to Russia being “most closely connected” (and other factors pointing to other jurisdictions, such as the use of Channel Islands trusts and the fact that the agreement was allegedly concluded in Zurich), these factors are not, in my judgment, sufficient to displace the presumption in article.4(2).’
Proper law of the contract is English law (discussion of the Russian oral evidence issue is made obiter at 332 ff). Tear J does signal at 331 that per Article 4(3) at the merits stage, provision may have to be made for Russian law as the lex rei sitae, for some parts of the agreement. Eventually the High Court finds on the basis of English law that there was no 2007 Agreement – although there is an issue of breach of a trust agreement and that may be litigated.
Fun with Rome.
(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.4, Heading 3.2.6.
Article 3 Freedom of choice
1. A contract shall be governed by the law chosen by the parties. The choice must be expressed or demonstrated with reasonable certainty by the terms of the contract or the circumstances of the case. By their choice the parties can select the law applicable to the whole or a part only of the contract.
3. The fact that the parties have chosen a foreign law, whether or not accompanied by the choice of a foreign tribunal, shall not, where all the other elements relevant to the situation at the time of the choice are connected with one country only, prejudice the application of rules of the law at the country which cannot be derogated from by contract, hereinafter called ‘mandatory rules`.
Article 4 Applicable law in the absence of choice
1. To the extent that the law applicable to the contract has not been chosen in accordance with Article 3, the contract shall be governed by the law of the country with which it is most closely connected. Nevertheless, a separable part of the contract which has a closer connection with another country may by way of exception be governed by the law of that other country.
2. Subject to the provisions of paragraph 5 of this Article, it shall be presumed that the contract is most closely connected with the country where the party who is to effect the performance which is characteristic of the contract has, at the time of conclusion of the contract, his habitual residence, or, in the case of a body corporate or unincorporate, its central administration. However, if the contract is entered into in the course of that party’s trade or profession, that country shall be the country in which the principal place of business is situated or, where under the terms of the contract the performance is to be effected through a place of business other than the principal place of business, the country in which that other place of business is situated.
3. Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph 2 of this Article, to the extent that the subject matter of the contract is a right in immovable property or a right to use immovable property it shall be presumed that the contract is most closely connected with the country where the immovable property is situated.
5. Paragraph 2 shall not apply if the characteristic performance cannot be determined, and the presumptions in paragraphs 2, 3 and 4 shall be disregarded if it appears from the circumstances as a whole that the contract is more closely connected with another country.