Napag Trading v Gedi. A right Italian tussle on libel over the internet, leads to jurisdictional dismissal on good arguable case grounds.

Napag Trading Ltd & Ors v Gedi Gruppo Editoriale SPA & Anor [2020] EWHC 3034 (QB) engages (and refers to) the issues I previously reported on in inter alia Bolagsupplysningen, Saïd v L’Express,

It is worthwhile to list both claimants and defendants.

On the claimants side, Napag Trading Limited (“the First Claimant”) is an English-domiciled company. Napag Italia Srl (“the Third Claimant”) is an Italian-domiciled subsidiary of the First Claimant. Sgr Francesco Mazzagatti (“the Second Claimant”), an Italian national with his main residence in Dubai, is the CEO and sole director of, and 95% shareholder in, the First Claimant. The First Claimant trades, and the Third Claimant has traded, in petroleum-based products.

On the defendants side, Gedi Gruppo Editoriale S.p.A. (“the First Defendant”) is the publisher amongst other things of L’Espresso which is a weekly Italian-language political and cultural magazine available both in print and online in England and Wales. Società Editoriale Il Fatto S.p.A. (“the Second Defendant”) is the publisher of Il Fatto Quotidiano (“Il Fatto”), a daily Italian-language newspaper published in England and Wales only on the internet.

An earlier Brexit-anticipatory forum non conveniens challenge was waived away by Jay J at 7: ‘Only the Second Defendant saw fit to raise a forum non conveniens challenge in advance of 1st January 2021 and the relevant EU regulation no longer applying. I would have been very reluctant to rule on this sort of application on an anticipatory basis.’

Identifying a centre of interest in England and Wales, leading to full jurisdiction there for damages, per CJEU e-Date and Bolagsupplysningen and also a precondition to apply for injunctive relief (see also Bolagsupplysningen: only courts with full jurisdiction may issue such relief) is of course a factual assessment.

The Second Claimant is an entrepreneur, born in Calabria but now living in Dubai. He founded the Third Claimant in 2012. Initially, it traded in oil and petroleum products from offices in Rome. The Third Claimant dealt in particular with the Italian oil company Eni S.p.A. (“Eni”), headquartered in Rome and in part state-owned, and Eni Trading & Shipping S.p.A. (“Ets”) which is based in Rome and has a branch in London. Second Claimant incorporated the First Claimant in April 2018. His evidence is that London was a better base from which to conduct and grow his business because he was encountering resistance from some banks and financial institutions who were diffident about working with an Italian company. More specifically, the strategy was to hive off the Third Claimant’s oil and gas business into the First Claimant, and the former would devote itself to trading in petrochemicals. Additionally, the idea was to invest in an “upstream” development in the UK Continental shelf, and the first discussions about this were in November 2018.

Justice Jay revisits the CJEU’s instructions re centre of interests for natural persons per e-Date. At 29:

First, other things being equal, and certainly in the absence of evidence to the contrary, a natural person’s “centre of interests” will match his or her habitual residence. Whether or not this may accurately be described as an evidential presumption does not I think matter (in my view, no legal presumption is generated); in any case, the CJEU – subject to my second point – is not purporting to assist national courts as to the rules of law that should govern the exercise of ascertainment. Secondly, general considerations of predictability and the need for clarity militate in favour of straightforward and readily accessible criteria rather than any microscopic examination of the detail.

At 32 follows an interesting discussion of para 43 of the CJEU Bolagsupplysningen judgment

“43. It is also appropriate to point out that, in circumstances where it is not clear from the evidence that the court must consider at the stage when it assesses whether it has jurisdiction that the economic activity of the relevant legal person is carried out mainly in a certain member state, so that the centre of interests of the legal person which is claiming to be the victim of an infringement of its personality rights cannot be identified, that person cannot benefit from the right to sue the alleged perpetrator of the infringement pursuant to article 7(2) of Regulation No 1215/2012 for the entirety of the compensation on the basis of the place where the damage occurred.”

After a reference to what Justice Jay calls Bobek AG’s ‘masterly opinion’, in particular the burden of proof issues are discussed which Jay J justifiably holds are not within the scope of Brussels Ia (not at least in the sense of deciding the procedural moment at which proof must be furnished). I agree with his finding that the CJEU’s meaning of para 43 is simply that

in the event that the national court concluded that it could not identify the “centre of interests” because the evidence was unclear, article 7(2) of the RBR could not avail the claimant.

Conclusion of the factual consideration follows (probably obiter: see 150) at 161: first Claimant has the better of the argument that its “centre of interests” is in England and Wales.

Jay J then discusses at 35 ff that whether there actually is damage within E&W as a matter of domestic law to decide to good arguable case standard, that the case may go ahead. That discussion shows that  the actual concept of ‘damage’ within the meaning of Brussels Ia and indeed Rome II is not quite so established as might be hoped, and it is held at 141 that no serious damage has occurred within E&W for there to be jurisdiction.

The case is a good illustration of the hurdle which national rules of civil procedure continue to form despite jurisdictional harmonisation under EU private international law rules.

Geert.

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

Third ed. forthcoming February 2021.