FDI v Barclays and others. A case-management stay on clarification grounds and the prospect of an Article 33-34 challenge given earlier US proceedings?

I am in tidying up mode clearly for my goodness I have way too many windows open on various browsers. And as always: Bloggo, ergo sum. (Or at the least: when I blog and /or Tweet the cases seem more firmly lodged in my memory). In FDI v Barclays & Ors [2022] EWHC 391 (Ch) defendants applied successfully for a case management stay to allow for clarification of the position in parallel US multi-district litigation (‘MDL’) proceedings (started earlier) involving the LIBOR fixing rate scandal. The confusion seems to be about what US  jurisdictional decisions in those proceedings mean against at least some of the defendants in the UK proceedings.

The UK proceedings were started pre-Brexit. One assumes therefore that the decision takes full advantage of the wedge that exists between a procedural, case management stay and a full-blown jurisdictional decision. The latter surely needs to be discussed under Brussels Ia, including its Articles 33-34 forum non-type mechanism, lest  one were to argue res judicata which, if the US Proceedings have not moved beyond jurisdictional decisions, is unlikely.

The judgment also indicates that a further CMC – Case Management Conference will be held in October. One looks forward to further development there.

Geert.

Bourlakova v Bourlakov. An ‘everything including the kitchen sink’ jurisdictional challenge, with the Article 34 forum non light issues held obiter.

‘Soonish’ was pretty accurate – I have been busy teaching LAW5478 at Monash. In Bourlakova v Bourlakov [2022] EWHC 1269 (Ch),  Trower J held ia against a stay of English proceedings on Article 34 Brussels Ia grounds. My paper on Article 33-34 is in the editorial stages at the Journal of Private International Law and the case will be included in its overview of the case-law so far. That case-law is predominantly English, perhaps a reflection of how (wrongly) English courts are convinced into thinking the Article 33-34 defence is another form of a forum non convenience objection to jurisdiction.

As in many of the cases (including Municipio de Mariana in which a Court of Appeal judgment ought to be delivered around June /July), the judge has to consider a mixed forum non conveniens (for the non-EU based defendants) and Article 33-34 (for the EU domicileds) defence. On top of that, there are applications for a  case-management  stay, and objections to valid service in Latvia. In other words, the classic ‘everything including the kitchen sink’ jurisdictional defence, leading to a judgment of over 400 paras long!

Jurisdiction in the case as far as Brussels Ia i concerned, is a combination of Article 4 and 8(1) – the Lugano Convention also has a calling.

Claimants are Mrs Loudmila Bourlakova and two companies of which she is the ultimate beneficiary, one of which (Hermitage One Limited (“H1”)) is incorporated in the Isle of Man and the second of which (Greenbay Invest Holdings Limited (“Greenbay”)) is incorporated in the Seychelles.  First defendant is Oleg Bourlakov, who died on 21 June 2021, which was after the commencement of these proceedings but before the applications to challenge jurisdiction had been made. The major part of his and his family’s wealth derived from the acquisition and subsequent sale of Novoroscement OJSC, a major Russian cement producer, which was sold for US$1.45 billion in 2007. Both Bourlakovi are or were Ukrainian, Russian and Canadian nationals. At the material time they were both domiciled in Monaco, although during the course of their marriage they had lived in a number of other jurisdictions including Canada.

Claimants allege that, since late 2017, there had been an irretrievable breakdown in marital relations. Divorce proceedings were initiated by Mrs Bourlakova in Monaco in 2018. It was common ground in the Monaco divorce proceedings that the law governing the matrimonial property regime is Ukrainian law and the Ukrainian concept of community property applied to the marriage. The Monegasque courts remained seised of the divorce proceedings at the time of Mr Bourlakov’s death.

Second to fourth defendants were all involved in the provision of fiduciary corporate services and advice to Mr Bourlakov, together with companies and foundations owned or controlled by him. Domicile for these is England, Cyprus or Switzerland. Fifth defendant, domiciled in Israel, somehow got caught up in the proceedings through a family trust, and is pursuing alternative litigation in England. Sixth defendant is a German qualified lawyer domiciled in Latvia, other defendants (family members ) are domiciled at Estonia or (companies) Panama.

The essence of the allegations is that Mr Bourlakov and his advisers conspired to reduce the share of the ex-wife in the matrimonial estate.  Mr Bourlakov and Mrs Bourlakova have never lived in England and the alleged partnership at the heart of the dispute is unrelated to England, did not operate here and is not governed by English law. None of the underlying assets which the claimants believe form part of Mr Bourlakov’s estate are located in England (or even held through English companies). Neither though, does Monaco (the alternative forum suggested in the jurisdictional objection) feature in the factual matrix.  One of the defendants is domiciled in England and one or two relevant meetings were held in England.

Divorce proceedings were commenced in Monaco and Mr Bourlakov and his advisers filed criminal proceedings there against Mrs Bourlakova on the basis of alleged breach of trust, concealment and money-laundering.  As is often the case in continental European proceedings, a civil claim there was lodged with an investigating judge, which will eventually lead to a court required to rule on the civil claim as well as the criminal one. Mr Bourlakov’s compaint has led to nought however Mrs Bourlakova’s counterclaim is still pending there in some, disputed form, as are Mr Bourlakov’s estate proceedings.

There is an extraordinarily complex web of issues to be held under English and EU jurisdictional rules but I shall limit this post to the Article 34 stay application – which was held obiter.

The judge [292] firstly notes, as noted obiter (for the A34 defence was raised too late), with reference ia to CJEU Aertssen,  that the defendants had not properly established that the Monaco criminal proceedings, viewed from the pont of Monegasque criminal procedure, were an “action pending before the court of a third state” for the purposes of A34 at the time the current proceedings were commenced.

[294] ff also discuss, equally obiter, whether any related third state action must fall within the scope of BIa for A34 to apply at all. [298] ff in that respect refer to two cases in which it was accepted that the court must be satisfied that the proceedings pending in the foreign jurisdiction, as well as the English proceedings, fall within the scope of BIa. However, in neither [BB Energy (Gulf) DMCC v Al Amoudi, WWRT Ltd v Tyshchenko, both engaged with the insolvency exclusion of BIa] was there a judicial decision on the point.

[312] Trower J also notes that A34 ‘accepts more risk of an irreconcilable judgment than article 30’, despite the reference in the recitals to flexibility. ‘Related’ actions are also discussed with reference to Viegas, and the judge [330] ff suggests he would not have ordered a stay on five further grounds, some of them related it seems to the ‘sound administration of justice’ requirement (and cited, too, for the refusal of a case management stay).

A complex web of findings and claims, with the A34 discussion showing that much is still outstanding on its application. I do not yet know whether permission to appeal has been sought and if so, on what grounds.

Geert.

European Private International, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.15.3.2, para 2.539 ff

Mixing the blank rounds with the live bullets. The Court of Appeal (obiter) on Article 33 Brussels Ia, forum non conveniens light, in Ness Global Services.

In Perform Content Services Ltd v Ness Global Services Ltd [2021] EWCA Civ 981 the Court of Appeal yesterday dismissed the appeal against the High Court judgment which I discussed here.

Two grounds of appeal were at play [34]:

(1) The Court was wrong as a matter of law to interpret Article 33 to mean that jurisdiction was not “based on” domicile by reason of a non-exclusive English court jurisdiction clause that conferred prorogated jurisdiction on the English Court pursuant to Article 25;

(2) The Court was wrong to conclude that a stay was not necessary for the proper administration of justice within the meaning of Article 33(1)(b). The court wrongly failed to place any or any sufficient weight on the fact that the NJ and English proceedings were mirror image proceedings giving rise to the risk of irreconcilable judgments, the core purpose of Article 33 and a core feature of the concept of the administration of justice under the Article. The court wrongly took account of the non-exclusive English court jurisdiction clause and/or an English governing law clause and/or wrongly took account of its assessment that the centre of gravity was Slovakia and/or failed to place any or any sufficient weight on the material connections between the parties and the United States and/or wrongly placed significant reliance on connections between the parties, the dispute and the UK.

On the first issue Flaux C refers ia to UCP and to Citicorp (the latter had not been referred to by the first instance judge, I suggested it could have been), to hold that choice of court under A25 BIa being exclusive or not has no relevance. Like the first instance judge, he rules that A33-34 cannot apply if choice of court has been made in favour of an EU court, exclusive or not.

He then deals obiter, like the judge had done, with the issue whether an A33-34 stay would have been in the interest of the sound administration of justice. He emphasises [66] the wide catchment area of ‘all the circumstances of the case’ per recital 24, and suggests this must potentially also include the connections which the case has with the EU Member State and indeed the specific court (per the choice of court clause) concerned.

On that he is right. But he is wrong in my view to support Turner J’s analysis at [67] in Municipio, without any nuance.

Turner J and Flaux C are both right that, the fact itself that the factors which a judge considers in holding that the proper administration of justice does not require a stay, might theoretically have also been relevant in a common law forum non conveniens exercise, does not invalidate the judge’s approach under A33-34. However the problem with the judge’s A33-34 analysis in Municipio is,

Firstly, that it is a case of the tail wagging the dog. The proper administration of justice analysis, exclusively populated by forum non criteria indeed with full reference to that forum non analysis, was put to the front without proper engagement with the substantive conditions for A33-34 to apply at all.

Further, the DNA of A33-34 as I have reported before ( I am preparing an overview for publication), is much, much different from the forum non DNA. By cutting and pasting of the criteria indeed by cross-reference to the forum non criteria without further ado, the A33-34 analysis is irreparably broken. It becomes a case of mixing the blank rounds with the live bullets.

It is worth emphasising that the limited A33-34  analysis are obiter findings only.

Geert.

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

Italy’s residual private international law rules in the spotlight in Dolce & Gabbana v Diet Prada defamation suit.

I was unaware of a fashion blogosphere war of words and more between Dolce & Gabbana and the founders of Diet Prada until I was asked to comment (in Dutch) on the pending lawsuit in Italy. The suit has an echo of SLAPP – Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.

Among others this post on The Fashion Law gives readers the necessary background and also links to the defendants’ lawyers reply at the jurisdictional level. It is this element of course that triggered the interview request, rather than my admittedly admirable sense of style (with sentences like these, I think I may be in need of a break).

Readers might be surprised to find the legal team discussing A7(2) Brussels Ia’s forum delicti, and CJEU authority such as Bolagsupplysningen seeing as per A6 BIa the Regulation does not apply, rather the Italian residual rules. However as Andrea Bonomi and Tito Ballarino review in the Encyclopedia of Private International Law, Italy has extended the scope of application of BIa to its internal sphere. Hence an interesting discussion of the CJEU case-law on locus damni, centre of interests etc. As well as a probably ill-fated attempt to encourage the Italian courts, in subsidiary fashion, to exercise forum non should the A7(2) arguments fall on deaf ears. Probably futile seeing as the Italian regime does not know a foum non rule, however if BIa is extended, would that not also extend to forum non-light in A33-34? As far as I could tell from the submission, however, no reference was made  to an 33-34 challenge.

Enfin, lots of interesting things to ponder at a different occasion. Happy Easter all.

Geert.

EU Private International Law 3rd ed. 2021, para 2.437 ff.

Suing ‘Norsk Hydro’ in The Netherlands. No engagement it seems of Article 33-34 BIa ‘forum non conveniens light’.

A quick note on the suit in The Netherlands against “Norsk Hydro” of Norway, for alleged pollution caused by aluminium production in Brasil. No court decisions or orders are available as yet hence I write simply to log the case. I have put Norsk Hydro in inverted commas for the suit really is against Norsk Hydro subsidiaries incorporated in The Netherlands, who are said to control the Brazilian entities. The jurisdictional basis therefore is A4 BIa. As far as the reporting on the case  indicates, there seems little likelihood of A33-34 BIa’s forum non conveniens light making an appearance seeing as no Brazilian proceedings are reported to be underway which could sink the Dutch proceedings like the High Court did in Municipio de Mariana. That is not to say of course that the defendants might not discover some.

Geert.

EU Private International Law., 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 7.3.1.

Galapagos v Kebekus. Freeport’s unfinished anchor mechanism analysis continues to spook the intensity of merits review at the jurisdictional stage.

Galapagos Bidco SARL v Kebekus & ors [2021] EWHC 68 (Ch) is yet again a fairly extensive first instance judgment merely on the issue of jurisdiction, entertaining Article 8(1) Brussel Ia’s anchor defendant mechanism as well as Article 25 choice of court.

On A8(1), focus of the discussion was the extent of a merits review under A8(1), which I also discuss  in Sabbagh v Khoury and Senior Taxi v Agusta Westland (both referred to here by Zacaroli J at 44 ff.; as was nb PIS v Al Rajaan). The issue was raised in CJEU C-98/06 Freeport but not answered. The judge here uses the notion of ‘sustainable claim’ to ensure absence of abuse of the anchor mechanism, concluding at 132 after fairly serious if arguably not excessive engagement with the merits, that the conditions of A8(1) are fulfilled.

Article 25 choice of court is discussed obiter at 138 ff., leading to some discussion on the timing of the binding character of the clause upon various parties (and a minor side-issue re Brexit).

A case-management stay was also applied for, with the judge justifiably adopting the strict approach at 160 that such a stay must not be used to circumvent the inapplicability of an Article 34 BIa challenge (the A34 route was dropped; in the light of A25 jurisdiction being established, it would be unavailable at any rate): case-management stay in such circumstances is in essence an application for forum non conveniens which is not permitted under BIa.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.13.1 (in particular 2.496); Heading 2.2.15.3.2.

TWR v Panasonic. Obiter consideration of A34 Brussels Ia forum non light. Hamburg court likely to have to take up that baton in some form.

Update 29 October 2021 the decision was upheld upon appeal.

TRW Ltd v Panasonic Industry Europe GmbH & Anor [2021] EWHC 19 (TCC)  adds to the slowly developing case-law on Article 34 Brussels Ia’s forum non conveniens light, on which I have reported at each occasion the Article to my knowledge has been applied (most recently in Ness Global Services).

The defendant Panasonic companies are based in Germany. Panasonic’s Group headquarters are in Japan. TRW is the English subsidiary, based in Solihull, of a German group of companies, ZF Group. The defendants say the parties agreed to German law and exclusive jurisdiction of the Hamburg court over any claim by TRW arising from supply of the resistors. TRW says the parties agreed to English law and jurisdiction.

There are related proceedings in Michigan, with judgment expected in about April 2021.

Kerr J decides at 55 ff here was valid A25 choice of court and hence jurisdiction for the courts at Hamburg, following the usual discussion on whether and if so which choice of court has been agreed in to and fro messages, purchase orders, invoices, references to general terms and conditions and the like. The kind of housekeeping complications which I discuss ia here.

Then follows obiter the Article 34 discussion. Parties agree that if jurisdiction under A25 BIa is established by neither party, TRW was at liberty to sue in England as the place of delivery of the goods, under A7(1) BIa; and that for A34 purposes there is a related lis alibi pendens in Michigan. The discussion turned on whether the word “expedient” in A34(1)(a) bears the meaning “desirable, even if not practicable” or “both practicable and desirable”, given the inconsistent case-law in JSC Commercial Privatbank v. Kolomoisky, SCOR v Barclays, Municipio de Mariana,  Federal Republic of Nigeria v. Royal Dutch Shell plcand of course  EuroEco.

At 94 Kerr J seems to side with Kolomoisky and with not reading EuroEco as a rejection of same, however he does not take definitive sides or does not attempt to reconcile the judgments. At 95 he says he would have not exercised his discretion for a stay, for the reasons earlier listed by counsel for claimants: these were (at 92-93)

Mr Caplan strongly opposed any stay. He submitted that, assuming I have any discretion to grant a stay (contrary to his reserved position), I should not exercise it. The risk of irreconcilable judgments could not be eliminated, he argued. The Michigan case would shortly produce a judgment binding on neither party to the present claim and, probably, applying Michigan law.

There was no scope for issue estoppel or abuse of process because the parties were different and the law could be different. Neither party in this case had opted for Michigan as the chosen forum and Michigan law as the choice of law. If the outcome of the Michigan litigation helped to promote settlement of the present claim, that could happen anyway, without a stay, since this claim is still at an early stage; the first case management conference has yet to take place.

At 98 Kerr J summarises

I would refuse a stay. The first condition in article 34(1)(a) – the expediency condition – may well be met, subject to clarification of the test emerging from the case law. The second condition is met. The third is not. I am far from satisfied that a stay is necessary for the proper administration of justice.

Kerr J concludes at 99

defendants have undertaken to submit to the jurisdiction of the Hamburg court, subject to seeking a stay of proceedings in Hamburg to await the outcome of the Michigan proceedings.

The Hamburg court is likely to see A34 arguments return, lest of course the Michigan proceedings will be concluded, in which case res judicata, recognition, and irreconcilability of judgment might be a core concern.

We have fairly little, if growing (*makes a note to now really really finish that paper*) authority to work with on A34. All bits help.

Geert.

European Private International, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.15.3.2, para 2.539 ff

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 27 July 2021 the Court of Appeal today granted the CPR 52.30 application and has given permission to appeal.

Update 10 May 2021 the Court of Appeal have agreed to hear our application to challenge the refusal for PTA.

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.

Jalla and others v Shell. High Court upholds mother holding jurisdiction, no stay granted on the basis of Brussels Ia’s Article 34 forum non conveniens-light.

Update 29 10 2021 the first instance judge’s decision not to extend time to serve Date of Damage Pleadings (“DODPs”) and associated material, was upheld by the Court of Appeal.

Update 1 October 2021 Stuart-Smith J’s finding that the case could not proceed as a representative action was upheld: Jalla & Anor v Shell International Trading And Shipping Co Ltd & Anor (Appeal (2): Representative Action) [2021] EWCA Civ 1389.

Update 27 January 2021 ) – the jurisdictional issues were not under appeal, which was held today: see Jalla & Ors v Shell International Trading And Shipping Company & Anor [2021] EWCA Civ 63, in which the Court of Appeal held that claimants do not have a cause of action for the continuing nuisance, leading to the claim of most of them being statute-barred.

Update 3 December 2020 see for an interim case-management decision on the issues under appeal here.

Update 18 August 2020 for subsequent procedural judgment unrelated to jurisdiction see [2020] EWHC 2211 (TCC).

England remains a jurisdiction of choice for corporate social responsibility /CSR litigation, in recent parlour often referred to as corporate (human and other rights due diligence. Jalla & Ors v Royal Dutch Shell Plc & Ors [2020] EWHC 459 (TCC) concerns a December 2011 oil spill which claimants allege companies forming part of the Shell group are responsible for. Anchor defendant in the UK is Shell International Trading and Shipping Company Limited – STASCO.

Stuart-Smith J on Tuesday last week upheld jurisdiction against the London-based mother holding on the basis of Article 4 Brussels Ia, and rejected an application for stay on Article 34 grounds. The judgment is lengthy, the issues highly relevant: this post therefore will be somewhat more extensive than usual.

Standard applications in cases like these now take the form of opposing jurisdiction against UK based defendants using Article 34 Brussels Ia (forum non conveniens -light; readers will remember the issues from ia Privatbank (cited by Stuart-Smith J) and other A34 postings on the blog); alternatively, resisting the case go to full trial on the basis that there is no real issue to be tried; abuse of process arguments (against such defendants: based on EU law); and case-management grounds. The latter two are of course disputed following Owusu. And against non-UK (indeed non-EU based defendants), using forum non conveniens; abuse of process; case-management and no real issue to be tried.

[A further application at issue is to amend form claims to ‘correct’ defendant companies, an application which is subject to limitation periods that are disputed at length in the case at issue. This is civil procedure /CPR territory which is less the subject of this blog].

The jurisdiction challenges are what interests us here and these discussions start at 207. The discussion kicks of with core instructions for ‘Founding jurisdiction’ in principle: the five step ladder expressed by Lord Briggs in Vedanta – which of course confusingly include many echoes of forum non as well as Article 34 analysis. Claimant must demonstrate:

(i) that the claims against the anchor defendant involve a real issue to be tried;

(ii) if so, that it is reasonable for the court to try that issue;

(iii) that the foreign defendant is a necessary or proper party to the claims against the anchor defendant;

(iv) that the claims against the foreign defendant have a real prospect of success; and

(v) that, either, England is the proper place in which to bring the combined claims or that there is a real risk that the claimants will not obtain substantial justice in the alternative foreign jurisdiction, even if it would otherwise have been the proper place, or the convenient or natural forum.

For the purposes of current application, Stuart-Smith J focuses on i, ii, and v:

  • When considering whether there is “a real issue to be tried” the test to be applied is effectively the same as the test for summary judgment: reference here is made to Okpabi. It may be important to point out that the ‘real issue to be tried’ test must not be confused as a negation of Owusu. The test effectively has a gatekeeping purpose, not unlike the similar test in e.g The Netherlands as shown in Kiobel.
  • The second condition, reasonableness to try the real issue, Stuart-Smith J concedes that this condition has been heavily debated for it is not entirely clear. He links the condition to the anchor jurisdiction issue: for Stuart-Smith J, the fact that the anchor defendant is sued for the sole or predominant purpose of bringing the foreign defendant into the action within the jurisdiction is not fatal to an application to serve the foreign defendant out of the jurisdiction. He seems to suggest therefore a light reading of the reasonableness requirement and emphasises (at 215) as Lord Briggs had done in Vedanta, that per C-281/02 Owusu, the effect of the mandatory terms of A4(1) BIa is that jurisdiction that is vested in the English Court by the article may not be challenged on arguments which in other circumstances would be forum non conveniens grounds. (This reinforces his flexible reading of the reasonableness requirement).
  • On the fifth condition, Stuart-Smith J at 217 focuses on the scenario of an A4 defendant likely to continue being sued regardless of the English PIL decision (forum non in particular) viz the non-EU defendants (an issue which was quite important in Vedanta, where no A34 arguments were raised). If that is indeed likely then in his view this must have an impact on how the court considers the application of the English rules.

As noted Stuart-Smith J lists these arguments as ‘founding jurisdiction’ and at 227 finds there is a real issue to be tried: a reliable conclusion in the other direction (that STASCO had not retained legal responsibility for the operation of the Northia) cannot be found at this jurisdictional stage.

The Abuse of EU law argument is given short, one para (at 218) shrift, with reference to Lord Briggs in Vedanta (who focused on Article 8(1) CJEU authority for there is little precedent on abuse of EU law).

Turning then to the pièce de résistance: Article 34.  Readers of the blog will have followed my regular reporting on same.

Stuart-Smith’s first discusses authority in abstracto, and his points are as follows:

  • BIa’s section 9, ‘lis pendens – related actions’, harbours two twins. At 222: ‘Articles 29 and 33 apply where proceedings in different jurisdictions involve the same cause of action and are between the same parties. Articles 30 and 34 apply where proceedings in different jurisdictions are “related” without satisfying the additional prerequisites for the application of Articles 29 and 33 (i.e. the same cause of action and between the same parties).‘ The twins are of course not identical: in each set, one involves action ex-EU, the other looks to intra-EU scenarios.
  • Zooming in on the A30-34 twin: A30 defines ‘related’ and A34 does not. Under A30(3), actions are related where they are “so closely connected that it is expedient to hear and determine them together to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgments resulting from different proceedings.” (at 222) under A34(1)a, the discretion to stay an action under that article does not arise unless “it is expedient to hear and determine the related actions to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgment resulting from separate proceedings”. Semantically one might suggest the latter therefore is a subset of the former (which would also suggest not all actions that are ‘related’ under A30 are so under A34). Stuart-Smith J however proposes to focus on the commonality of both, which is the presence of expediency, ‘to hear and determine them together to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgments resulting from <different: A30> <seperate: A34’ proceedings. Again at 222: ‘Although there is a semantic argument that this means that cases falling within Article 34(1)(a) are a subset of “related actions”, I cannot conceive of circumstances where this would matter: the expediency criterion is a pre-requisite for the exercise of the court’s discretion both under Article 29 and under Article 34.’
  • At 223 then follows the discussion of “risk of irreconcilable judgments”. ‘Because Articles 30 and 34 do not require the proceedings to involve the same cause of action and to be between the same parties, it is plain that the “risk of irreconcilable judgments” to which Articles 30(3) and 34(1)(a) refer cannot require that there be a risk that one judgment may give rise to an issue estoppel affecting the other.’ In other words, the test of irreconcilability is suggested to be more easily met in A30 (and 34) then it is under A29 (and 33). Nevertheless, with reference to Donaldson DJ in Zavarco, Stuart-Smith J suggests the points of difference between the judgments (whether arising from findings of fact or of law) would have to “form an essential part of the basis of the judgments” before A30 or 34 may be engaged.
  • At 225 he then refers to Privatbank, held by the Court of Appeal after proceedings in Jalla had been closed, in which the Court of Appeal held that the fact that actions could not be consolidated and heard together (much as of course such togetherness cannot be imposed upon the foreign courts) is relevant to the exercise of the Court’s discretion and, in the absence of some strong countervailing factor, will be a compelling reason for refusing a stay. At 246, that importance of the impossibility of consolidated hearings is re-emphasised.

At 228 then Stuart-Smith J arrives at the application in concretoHe starts with the defendants’ arguments: ‘In their written submissions the Defendants rely upon a number of claims brought by groups of claimants or communities before various courts in Nigeria and one action of rather different complexion, known as the Federal Enforcement Action [“FEA”]. They submit that the English proceedings against STASCO should be stayed, at least temporarily, in order to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgments being reached in England and in one or more of the Nigerian proceedings by waiting for the determinations of the Nigerian Courts and then taking proper account of those determinations in disposing of the English proceedings. The Defendants submit that, by the imposition of a stay, the court would avoid “a course of conflict with the courts of a friendly state” and avoid “cutting across executive actions of the Nigerian State in relation to property situated within its territory” which the Defendants submit would be in breach of the act of state doctrine and considerations of comity.‘ He then proceeds to discuss the arguments:

  • Firstly he discusses at length the status of the FEA (which counsel for the defendants focused on) as well as a number of other actions pending in the Nigerian courts.
  • Of note is his observation at 234: ‘It is a fact material to the exercise of the court’s discretion on these applications that the Defendants in these proceedings rely upon the existence of the FEA as grounds for imposing a stay pursuant to Article 34 while at the same time SNEPCO is maintaining its root and branch opposition to the validity (as well as the factual merits) of the FEA.’
  • At 237 he notes the not carbon copy but nevertheless overlap between proceedings, at the level of claimants, defendants, and facts, but not the allegations of negligence and Rylands v Fletcher which are not directed at STASCO in the FEA proceedings. Of note is that he adds in fine that the potential problem of double recovery is simply an issue with which the English and Nigerian courts may have to grapple in due course.
  • At 241 he holds obiter that expediency is not met here for a stay would not reduce the risk of irreconcilable judgments. Here, the true nature of forum non (I realise of course A34 is only forum non light) re-emerges: the English proceedings will continue after the stay in all likelihood will have been lifted (there will continue to be a case to answer for STASCO). ‘(A)lthough the English court would afford due attention and respect to the findings of the Nigerian courts, the findings of the Nigerian courts in the FEA and the other actions would not bind the English court to make equivalent findings even on the most basic matters such as whether the December 2011 Spill reached land.’ However ‘in the light of the ruling by the Court of Appeal [in Privatbank, GAVC] that expediency is a theoretical concept, I will proceed on the assumptions (without deciding) that, for the purposes of Article 34, (a) the actions in Nigeria are related actions and (b) it is expedient to determine the related actions together to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgment resulting from different proceedings.’
  • That leaves the question whether a stay is necessary for the ‘proper administration of justice.’
    • At 242 the elements of recital 24 are considered in turn. Stuart-Smith emphasises in particular that while the damage occurred in Nigeria, there is a strong international element that is alleged to give rise to a duty of care owed by STASCO to the Claimants; and he underlines the uncertainty as to the length of the Nigerian proceedings).
    • At 245 he concludes that no stay is warranted: I shall recall the para in full (underlining is mine, as is the lay-out):
      • ‘Balancing these various considerations together, I am not satisfied that a stay is necessary for the proper administration of justice.
      • I start with the fact that jurisdiction is based on Article 4 and that it is contemplated that the proceedings against STASCO may continue after a temporary stay to await the progress of the Nigerian actions.
      • Second, the length of that stay is indeterminate whether one looks at the FEA or the other actions; but on any view it is likely to be measured in years rather than months, thereby rendering these Claimants’ claims (which were issued late) almost intolerably stale.
      • Third, a stay would prevent any steps being taken towards the resolution of the difficult limitation and other issues which the earlier parts of this judgment identify; and it would prevent any other steps being taken to ensure the swift and just progression of the English action if and when the stay is removed. That is, in my judgment, a major drawback: if and to the extent that there are valid (i.e. not statute-barred) claims to be pursued, there is a compelling interest of justice in their being pursued quickly. Otherwise, as is well known, there is a risk that valid claims may fall by the wayside simply because of the exorbitant passage of time.
      • Fourth, although the factual connection with Nigeria is almost complete, the English court’s jurisdiction is not to be ousted on forum non conveniens grounds and, that being so, there is no reason to assume that imposing a stay until after the Nigerian courts have reached their conclusions will either cause the English proceedings to be abandoned or determine the outcome of the English proceedings or eliminate the risk of irreconcilable findings altogether. I am certain that the English court would and will, if no stay is imposed at this stage, remain vigilant to the need to respect the Nigerian courts and their proceedings; and I do not exclude the possibility that circumstances might arise at a later stage when a pause in the English proceedings might become desirable in the interest of judicial comity and respect for Nigeria’s sovereign legal system.
      • Fifth, I bear in mind the fact that the scope of the FEA action is not clear, so that it is not clear what issues will be determined, save that the issue of STASCO’s responsibility and actions will not be as they are not before the Nigerian Court. Turning to the other actions, STASCO is only a party to the HRH Victor Disi Action which, though technically pending, cannot be assumed to be certain to come to trial. The status of the remaining actions, where STASCO is not a party, is as set out above but does not give confidence that one or more of those actions will emerge as a suitable vehicle for determining issues relating to the spill so as to fetter the freedom and resolve of the English court to reach a different conclusion on behalf of different claimants and in an action against STASCO if that is the proper result.
      • Sixth, in my judgment, the proper administration of justice is better served by taking interim steps to bring order to the English proceedings, specifically by addressing the issues of limitation and, potentially, existence and scope of duty, which are disclosed in the earlier parts of this judgment. The outcome of those steps should determine whether and to what extent STASCO is available as an anchor defendant.’

There is an awful lot here which may prove to be of crucial relevance in the debate on the application of Article 34. Most importantly, Stuart-Smith’s analysis in my view does justice to the DNA of A34, which includes a strong presumption against a stay.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 8, Heading 8.3.

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