Ness Global Services: A33-34 BIa’s forum non conveniens-light applied to the Scarlet Pimpernel of BIa: non-exclusive choice of court.

Ness Global Services Ltd v Perform Content Services Ltd [2020] EWHC 3394 (Comm)  engages Articles 33-34 of the Brussels Ia Regulation, its so-called forum non conveniens light regime. I reported on it before of course, most recently re Municipio de Mariana in which the judge arguably failed to engage with BIa properly (making A33-34 a carbon copy of abuse and /or forum non arguments in my view is noli sequi).

Perform and Ness are UK-registered companies with offices in London.  Perform are defendants in the UK action. Ness Global Services and its parent Ness Technologies Inc are defendants in parallel proceedings in New Jersey. Both sets of proceedings are based on the same facts and matters. These are said to constitute the basis for termination by both sides of a written agreement.

Ness argue application of A33-34 must be dismissed for there is non-exclusive choice of court in favour of England which, it argues, makes the A33-34 threshold very high. (The clause reads ‘”Governing Law and Jurisdiction. The Agreement shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and the parties hereby irrevocably submit to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the Courts of England and Wales as regards any claim, dispute or matter arising under or in connection with this Agreement.”)

Houseman J introduces BIa’s scheme clearly and concisely, using the excellent Adrian Briggs’ suggestion of there being a hidden hierarchy in the Regulation – which in my Handbook I have also adopted (clearly with reference to prof Briggs) as the ‘jurisdictional matrix’. Houseman J at 39 notes that non-exclusive jurisdiction is hardly discussed in the Regulation. and concludes on that issue ‘If the internal hierarchy is “hidden” then is fair to say that the concept of non-exclusive prorogated jurisdiction is enigmatic and elusive. It is The Scarlet Pimpernel of the Regulation.’ Later non-EJA is used as shorthand for non-exclusive jurisdiction agreement.

At 62 after consideration of the reflexive application of exclusive jurisdictional rules, including choice of court, the text of A33-34, and recital 24, the judge considers that the recital

focusses upon connections with the ‘first seised’ Non-Member State, rather than the ‘second seised’ Member State which is applying Article 33 or Article 34. This is conspicuous notwithstanding the fact that the jurisdictional gateway language presupposes some connection between either the defendant (domicile) or the circumstances of the case (special jurisdiction) and the ‘second seised’ forum. Further, there is no obvious room in this wording for accommodating or giving effect to a Non-EJA in favour of the courts of the latter forum, and no warrant for affording it the significance that it would receive under English private international law principles, as noted below. In contrast, the second paragraph of the recital appears to contemplate the conferral of exclusive prorogated jurisdiction (albeit reflexively) in favour of the ‘first seised’ Non-Member State, as noted above.

At 80, Houseman J emphasises that in his view the internal hierarchy of the Regulation (the matrix) has no direct role to play in interpreting or applying the gateway language in A33-34. Those articles are themselves part of such hierarchy and are themselves a derogation from the basic rule of domiciliary jurisdiction. He then refers in some support to UCP v Nectrus (reference could also have been made to Citicorp) to hold at 95 that

where Article 25 operates to confer prorogated jurisdiction upon the courts of the ‘second seised’ Member State, whether exclusive or non-exclusive, Articles 33 and 34 are not applicable. In such a case it cannot be said that the court’s jurisdiction is “based upon” Article 4.

A suggestion at 96 that in such case A33-34 can apply reflexively is justifiably rejected.

At 109 application of A33-34 had they been engaged is declined obiter as being not in the interest of proper administration of justice. At 107 mere reference, neither approving nor disapproving was made ia to Municipio de Mariana which effectively places the Articles on a forum non footing.  At 112 it is held obiter

Without engaging in a full granular balancing exercise, given that this is a hypothetical inquiry in the present case, I am not persuaded that it is or would have been necessary for the proper administration of justice to stay these proceedings in favour of the NJ Proceedings. The parties bargained for or at any rate accepted the risk of jurisdictional fragmentation and multiplicity of proceedings by agreeing clause 20(f). That risk has manifested, largely through the tactical choice made by Perform to commence proceedings pre-emptively in New Jersey. The continuation of these proceedings, notwithstanding the existence of the NJ Proceedings, is a foreseeable consequence of the parties’ free bargain and a risk that Perform courted by suing first elsewhere.

An interesting addition to the scant A33-34 case-law, in an area this time of purely commercial litigation.

Geert.

European Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, 2.539 ff.

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

Update 31 03 2021 the Court of Appeal have confirmed refusal to appeal in an order which fails to engage properly with inter alia the A34 issues.

Update 1 February 2021 Turner J last week refused permission to appeal (which can now still be taken to the Court of Appeal itself).

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.

Agbara et al v Shell. Recognition /enforcement, ordre public and natural justice. Shell Nigeria ruling refused registration in the High Court.

[2019] EWHC 3340 (QB) Agbara et al v Shell Nigeria et al (thank you Adeole Yusuf for flagging) illustrates what many a conflict teacher initiates classes with. There is some, but often limited use in obtaining a judgment which subsequently cannot be enforced where the defendant’s funds are. Coppel DJ refused to enter registration of a 2010 Nigerian judgment by which claimants were awarded 15,407,777,246 Naira (approximately £33 million today) in damages in respect of the pollution of land occupied by them following the rupture of a pipeline maintained by Shell in 1969 or 1970.

Brussels Ia does not apply to recognition and enforcement of an ex-EU judgment hence the common law was applied (clearly with due deference to international comity yet the standards of natural justice nevertheless being determined by lex fori, English law). Natural justice was found to have been infringed by the proceedings at issue. This included an impossibility for Shell to cross-examine witnesses and an unusually swift completion of proceedings following the dismissal of a procedural argument made by Shell. Shell’s subsequent bumbling of the appeal via procedural mistake was not found by Coppel DJ to alter the findings of infringement of natural justice.

Obiter the factual mistakes made in the calculation of damages leading to the award and the opaque inclusion of punitive damages were also found to stand in the way of recognition and enforcement.

The ruling has some relevance for Article 33/34 BI1’s Anerkennungsprognose.

Geert.

 

Wigmans v AMP. Abuse of process and multiplicity of proceedings.

[2019] NSWCA 243 Wigmans v AMP concerns the challenging application of fraus /abuse / vexatious and oppressive proceedings principles to multiplicity of proceedings. Fraus or abuse is not easily applied in civil procedure let alone conflict of laws context. See e.g. my critique of Pablo Star but equally other postings; search tag ‘abuse’ or ‘fraus’ should help locate them. Neither is the common law Aldi rule requiring claimants to bring grouped cases together easy to consider.

Following testimony given by executives of AMP in the (Australian) Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry, five class actions were commenced within a short time of each other on behalf of shareholders in AMP who had made investments during periods of time in which it was said that AMP ought to have disclosed certain information to the market. Four of the five class actions were commenced in the Federal Court but were transferred to the Supreme Court. Two of the sets of proceedings then consolidated so that five became four. Each of the respective plaintiffs of the remaining four pending proceedings brought applications to stay each of the other sets of proceedings. AMP, whilst not filing a stay application, supported an outcome in which it would face only one set of proceedings.

Unclear principles on the issue have led to considerations of ‘beauty parades’ (which legal team might best lead the class action) as well as third party funding implications.

The primary judge ordered, pursuant to ss 67 and 183 of the Civil Procedure Act 2005 (NSW) and the inherent power of the Court, that the representative proceedings commenced by 3 of the 4 be permanently stayed. Each of these 3 fell within the definition of group member in the 4th, the ‘Komlotex’ proceedings. Ms Wigmans, one of the 3, made an application for leave to appeal that decision.

The issue in respect of which leave to appeal was granted (but appeal eventually refused) related to the principles applicable to applications to stay and counter-stay multiple open representative action proceedings.

The case therefore does not strictly relate to conflict of laws, rather to civil procedure and case management. However multiplicity of proceedings is clearly an issue viz conflicts, too (think lis alibi pendens; forum non etc.) hence I thought it worthwhile to flag the case; in which Bell P quotes conflicts handbooks; and in which 85 he expressly considers forum non and Cape v Lubbe. The House of Lords in that case had refused to stay proceedings which had been commenced in England where it was said that South Africa was the natural or more appropriate forum, in circumstances where it was held that the proceedings could only be handled efficiently and expeditiously on a group basis in England where appropriate funding was available. The lack of means available in South Africa to prosecute the claims required the application for a stay of proceedings to be refused.

An interesting case in which conflict of laws principles inspired domestic civil procedure rules, and where relevant considerations have an impact on e.g. the Article 33-34 Brussels Ia discussions.

Geert.

 

 

Huawei v Conversant wireless. Reflexive application of patent validity jurisdiction confirmed in principle – but rejected in casu.

In [2019] EWCA Civ 38 Huawei v Conversant Wireless (on appeal from [2018] EWHC 808 (Pat) the Court of Appeal considered whether in the event of 2 defendants being UK based (the others domiciled in China) the UK courts may relinquish jurisdiction reflexively to honour Article 24(4) Brussels Ia’s exclusive jurisdictional rule for the validity of patents.

Neither Article 33’s lis alibi pendens or Article 34’s ‘forum non conveniens’ rule were discussed.

Huawei China and ZTE China have commenced proceedings in China against Conversant, seeking to establish invalidity and (in the case of Huawei China only) non-infringement of Conversant’s Chinese patents. Conversant have inter alia sued Huawei China and ZTE China in Germany for infringement of its German patents.

Following Owusu, jurisdiction for infringement of UK patents against UK incorporated companies must lie and remain with the English courts per Article 4 B1a. As readers will remember from my review of Ferrexpo, the English courts for some time however have noticed with relish that the CJEU in Owusu did not entertain the part of the referral which asked it whether exclusive jurisdictional rules may apply reflexively – holding thereafter in the CJEU’s stead that they might so do (in a discretionary: not a slavish fashion: Floyd J here at 115).

At 95 ff Floyd J discusses the issues after having summarised the various representations made (see a summary of the summary by John de Rohan-Truba here), with much of the discussion turning on English CPR and jurisdictional rules, and reflexive application of Article 24(4) confirmed in principle, but not applied here. Requests to refer to the CJEU were summarily dismissed.

Geert.

(Handbook of ) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.6.7, Heading 2.2.9.5.