Kazakhstan Kagazy v Zhunus. Again on qualification and a rather untidy application of Rome II in the context of an assets tracing claim.

Kazakhstan Kagazy Plc & Ors v Zhunus & Ors [2021] EWHC 3462 (Comm), sees Henshaw J unpicking the follow-up to a trial of applications and claims made by the Claimants for the purpose of enforcing an unsatisfied judgment for approximately US$300 million, handed down in December 2017.

The relevant part of the complex judgment, for the purposes of the blog, is a ‘tracing claim’: claimant argue that monies stolen from them by one of the defendants can be traced or followed into a variety of assets said to be held by companies within Cypriot trusts structures for the benefit of said defendant and his family. What is being traced are shares in Exillon, an oil company which Mr Arip developed after he fled Kazakhstan for Dubai. The proceeds of the shares went partially into the purchase of real estate, with another (substantial) part remaining liquid in a Swiss bank account.

Defendants submit that the tracing claim is governed by Kazakh law, and that that law does not recognise the concept of tracing. The judge, with respect, and perhaps he was echoing submissions, takes a rather unstructured approach to the conflict of laws analysis from which the judgment subsequently never recovers. Many first instance judgments in the UK intuitively start by quoting a relevant section from Dicey (whose 16th ed I am told might be out end of 2022), and then somehow engineer the analysis around it. In the case at issue, the Dicey rule that is zoomed in on [85], is disputes over real property, which are subject to lex situs (lex rei sitae). At [88] the judge then refers to Akers v Samba in which the Supreme Court, albeit at the jurisdictional level, held “the situs or location of shares and of any equitable interest in them is the jurisdiction where the company is incorporated or the shares are registered”. [89]:

It would follow that, insofar as relevant, questions of title to the Exillon shares, whose proceeds (a) were used to purchase the Properties and (b) remain in the form of the £72 million in the BJB account in Switzerland, would be likely to be governed by Manx law, Exillon having been incorporated in the Isle of Man.  A possible alternative would be English law on the basis that the shares were traded on the London Stock Exchange.  The parties have in any event agreed that, so far as relevant to these claims, Manx law is the same as English law.

[91] some role for Kazakh law is suggested to still exist when considering whether the English law preconditions for a tracing claim are met.  ‘It is generally a pre-condition of tracing in equity that there be a fiduciary relationship which calls the equitable jurisdiction into being’. [92] The law applicable to a cause of action or issue determines whether a person is required to hold property on constructive or resulting trust, hence it is necessary to consider whether duties imposed by the relevant foreign law are to be regarded as fiduciary.

Only in an afterthought [94] does the judge consider the lex causae governing unjust enrichment, equitable claims and negotiorum gestio, per Rome II as retained in UK law (and in Dicey). [The judgment is not in fact clear on when the claim was introduced and therefore might be subject to acquired as opposed to retained EU law].

The lex causae for the qualification of the current claims (proprietary restitution) as one of these entries in Rome II [96] is matter of factly presented as English law. [99] the judge dismisses the relevance of the succinct Rome II analysis for, harking back to his first reference to Dicey, the fundamental nature of the Claimants’ claim in the present case is held to be a proprietary one hence Dicey’s lex situs rule is said to apply without a need to consider Rome II.

Surely the right order is to qualify the claim, using autonomous EU interpretation, under (retained) Rome I cq Rome II and with reference to CJEU authority- with of course some of the recent qualification issues following CJEU Hrvatske Sume thrown in. Subsequently to only consider the English common law to the extent statutorily retained EU law does not govern the issue. The approach in the judgment is unsatisfactory and in that respect joins Fetch.AI Lrd & Anor v Persons Unknown Category A & Ors [2021] EWHC 2254 (Comm) , which Amy Held and Matthias Lehmann discuss critically this morning.

Geert.

The applicable law for design infringement. Szpunar AG in Acacia v BMW.

First Advocate-General Szpunar opined a the end of October in C-421/20 on the law applicable to a damages suit following infringement of Community Design rights. No English edition of the Opinion is as yet available.

The two parties had earlier been at loggerheads on the jurisdictional issues, see CJEU C-433/16 BMW v Acacia and the provisional measures implications of the relevant Regulation 6/2002  were discussed in Spin Master. Current case not only puts into the spotlight the ‘international’ dimension required to trigger EU conflict of laws (it is in this section that I was pleased to see the AG refer to the 2016 ed of the Handbook), it also discussed the relationship between the core EU Regulations Brussels Ia, Rome I and II on the one hand, and lex specialis on the other, in the case at issue: A82(5) Regulation 6/2002: ‘5. Proceedings in respect of the actions and claims referred to in Article 81(a) and (d) may also be brought in the courts of the Member State in which the act of infringement has been committed or threatened.’ The result of the jurisdictional provisions is a cascade system which is also present in the relevant Trademark Regulation, prompting the AG to seek inspiration in CJEU AMS Neve.

BMW’s action, which was granted by the first instance German courts, seeks not just inductive relief viz Acacia’s distribution of wheel rims in Germany, but also damages for the alleged Community design infringement and (with a view to supporting the damages claim), access to documents, accounts etc. – this will have an immediate echo to readers of the blog I assume of ‘procedural’ issues to which I (and the AG) return below.

A relevant provision in the Community Design Regulation – CDR is Article 88, Applicable law:

1. The Community design courts shall apply the provisions of this Regulation.

2. On all matters not covered by this Regulation, a Community design court shall apply its national law, including its private international law.

3. Unless otherwise provided in this Regulation, a Community design court shall apply the rules of procedure governing the same type of action relating to a national design right in the Member State where it is situated.

A similar reference to national law with renvoi, is present in A89 with respect to ‘sanctions in actions for infringement’. With the inclusion of renvoi (‘a Community design court shall apply its national law, including its private international law’) inevitably reference is made to Rome II for that Regulation forms the applicable private international law in the Member States.

A first question was whether BMW’s requests re access to documentation, may be subject to lex fori processualis – answered in the negative by the AG with reference to CJEU C‑479/12 H. Gautzsch Großhandel , and to CJEU Nintendo. Whether these observations (and authorities) on the procedural issues extends to Rome I /II is not discussed. Readers will be aware that I find that an important question that remains outstanding.

The next issue is whether Rome II and /or the CDR apply at all to the litigation at issue in view of the light ‘international’ touch to the case. In view inter alia of the AG’s own Opinion in Vinyls Italia, he answers in the affirmative. For more detail on the issue please refer to the Opinion however I find among others his point convincing (43) that a restrictive view within the Community Design (and other intellectual property rights litigation) sphere, would hand a means to claimants artificially to split their claims so as to shop for the lex fori in Mozaik fashion. He rejects BMW’s alternative view based on the effet utile of A82(5) CDR. 

Up next is the question whether, having established Rome II applies, A8(2) Rome II needs to be applied using AMS Neve or alternatively Nintendo, to determine the ‘country in which the act of infringement was committed’. There is much detail on this in the Opinion (readers may refer to Annette Kur’s paper which also discussed this and is referred to in the Opinion), with the AG I think opting for the Nintendo route – I am not too proud to admit as I have done before, that the specific relation between secondary IPR law and EU conflict of laws, is not my specialty.

Geert.

 

Sánchez-Bordona AG in ZK v BMA on applicable law for the Peeters Gatzen insolvency suit. Includes important suggestions for the corporate life (lex societatis) exception and duty of care.

Sánchez-Bordona AG opined at the end of October on the law applicable to the Peeters /Gatzen suit (of Nk v BNP Paribas fame) in Case C‑498/20 ZK, in his capacity of successor to JM, insolvency practitioner in the insolvency of BMA Nederland BV v BMA Braunschweigische Maschinenbauanstalt AG – ZK v BMA for short. An English version of the Opinion is still not available.

Peeters /Gatzen is a tortious suit brought by a liquidator. In Nk v BNP Paribas the CJEU held it is covered by Brussels Ia, not by the Insolvency Regulation. The obvious applicable law port of call is Rome II. A first point which the AG discusses is a rather important discussion on the lex societatis exception to Rome II. The extent of that exception is important e.g. also for business and human rights cases, for the Peeters /Gatzen suit essentially engages duty of care towards third parties.

The AG emphasises (35) one of my points of attention in the BIa /Rome I/II interplay: that in accepting a certain amount of consistency in interpretation, the courts must nevertheless appreciate each instrument’s autonomy and quite different subject-matter. (46) The reasoning behind the exclusion of the lex societatis from the 1980 Rome Convention is said to be the ambition at the time to harmonise company law across the EU which, as we know from CJEU Daily Mail and all its successors, has still not come true. The AG then refers to the internal /external dimension of corporate relations such as discussed in C‑25/18 Kerr and C‑272/18 Verein für Konsumenteninformation. However he then suggests (51) that the reference to the ‘internal’ dimension of the life of a corporation does not suffice to justify 2 of the examples which Rome II explicitly lists in A1(2)d as being part of the corporate exception: the
personal liability of officers and members as such for the obligations of the company or body and the personal liability of auditors to a company or to its members in the statutory audits of accounting documents.

At (52-53) he then posits his way out of the conundrum, immediately acknowledging that the criterion he suggests may not be easily applicable: all contractual and non-contractual elements for which a specific solution exists which emanates from the relationship between those elements and the internal life and mechanisms of a corporation (whether they relate to the internal workings or the external relations), are covered by one statutory corpus, namely the lex societatis. Put differently, they are excluded insofar as and because their corporate law element absorbs all other. Specifically viz non-contractual obligations, if the relevant rule is so ‘drenched’ with elements specific to the corporate law context that it looses its meaning outside that context, that rule qualifies as being part of the lex societatis exception.

He immediately acknowledges (56) that this kind of litmus test is not easy to apply in practice and suggest (57 ff) to employ the ratio legis of the liability at stake to assist with the exercise. If that ratio lies in the general neminem laedere rule, Rome II is engaged. If that ratio however immediately follows from corporate law considerations, such as a director’s loyalty to the corporation, the exception is engaged. The AG lists examples (63), including the scenario at stake in CJEU OFAB. At (66) the AG concludes, albeit not directly, that the Peeters Gatzen suit in all likelihood is not covered by Rome II and he discusses the other questions in subsidiary fashion.

(67ff) with reference ia to CJEU Lazar the CJEU refers to the tricky characterisation of damage as (in)direct and opts in cases such as these that the direct damage occurs in the insolvent (or otherwise facing liquidity issues) corporation: the diminishing impact on the creditors is indirect, ricochet. Locus damni therefore is The Netherlands if the referring judge finds that the insolvent corporation’s estate is based there. (76) Whomever initiates the suit (the insolvency practitioner and /or the creditors) is irrelevant, as is (80) the fact that some of the creditors are located outside the EU.

(83ff) then follows the discussion of A4(3) Rome II’s escape clause (most recently discussed in Scott v AIG). A pre-existing contractual relationship (which the AG suggests (95ff) may also be called upon by claimants that are not party to that relationship) is just one among many factors that may play a role – not a particularly dominant one: (93-94) particularly where such relationship (such as here, taking the form of a credit facility) is one where choice of law was made: A4(3) RII is directed at situations where the non-contractual relationship has a closer connection to a law other than the locus damni. Lex voluntatis does not necessarily reflect the tort’s closer relationship but rather the parties’ voluntary expression.

An important Opinion.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed 2021, para 4.22.,  para 4.39 ff.

Forever chemicals, and suing 3M for PFAS pollution in Europe. A flag on applicable law.

On Friday, together with my learned colleague at both Bar and Faculty Isabelle Larmuseau, I was asked to put my environmental law hat on at the Flemish Parliament. I was heard  on the current scandal hitting Flanders following PFAS (‘forever chemicals’) emissions by 3 M at the port of Antwerp. For background to PFAS see here.

Isabelle’s slidedeck for same is here (updated at 09:28 on 31 August to correct earlier pdf which contained an earlier version of the slides), and mine here. Both are in Dutch, with Isabelle’s focusing on the Flemish environmental law angle (albeit with strong EU law influence, necessarily) and mine on the EU and international law context).

Focus of the debate is on environmental /public health law however for my conflicts followers there is a treat. A civil law suit by Belgian and /or other [the port of Antwerp is very close for instance to the Dutch border. Emissions in air, water and soil (for the latter, particularly if exported) clearly impact Dutch citisens, say] claimants against 3M’s Belgian corporate presence is easily pursued both in Belgium (Article 4 Brussels Ia) and in other Member States (Article 7(2) locus damni). Residual private international law in all these States would fairly straightforwardly allow for the suit to be extended to 3M’s corporate mother, based at St Paul, Minnesota.

The more exciting bit is applicable law. The impact of common US (State) law on forever chemicals suits is well documented. Despite EU courts not willing to apply the punitive damages elements of these suits, an application of the other elements of US tort law may well be very attractive to claimants here. Those US laws are certainly within reach of claimants, using Article 7 Rome II. There is no question the damage ‘arises out of’ environmental damage (unlike the hesitation in Begum v Maran). There is certainly merit in the suggestion that locus delicti commissi is in St Paul, Minessota. Like with its fellow manufacturers and industrial users of PFAS, 3M’s worldwide grip on corporate communication and legal strategy on the issue is tight. More importantly, the decision tree on the manufacture, use and emissions of PFAS is arguably equally located at holding level. Reference here can be made to the relevance of Shell’s holding policy in lex causae determination in the recent climate ruling.

Clearly, via A17 Rome II, Flemish and of course European environmental law would play a role (cue Isabelle’s slidedeck for an excellent starter).

A collective action procedure in say The Netherlands in my view would be an ideal strategy to test these most murky waters.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd. ed. 2021, Chapter 4, Heading 4.6.3 (4.54 ff).

Applicable law in cases of purely economic loss following judgment in Vereniging van Effectenbezitters.

I have reported before on the jurisdictional consequences of CJEU Vereniging van Effectenbezitters v BP. In this post for the European Association of Private International Law, I give my views on the impact for applicable law.

Geert.

Suing TikTok: on GDPR and ordinary jurisdiction, as well as applicable law in the Dutch collective claim.

A short note on the claim form for the collective claim by a group of parents based in The Netherlands against TikTok Technology Limited, domiciled at Dublin, Ireland.  It engages Article 79 GDPR, as well as the consumer section of Brussels Ia. At the applicable law level, it suggests application of Article 6 Rome I (consumer contracts; a logical counterpart of the jurisdictional analysis) and, in subsidiary fashion, Article 4 Rome II, each to suggest application of Dutch law.

I wrote on Article 79 here, and the problems which I signalled have in the meantime surfaced in case-law, as I signalled ia here.  Current TikTok claim however prima facie would seem to be more straightforward under both GDPR, BIa and Rome I – one imagines a possible TikTok’s defence to go towards the meaning of ‘establishment’.

Geert.

 

Duffy v Centraal Beheer Achmea. Interim payments qalified as procedural, not within the scope of Rome II.

Update 23 February 2021 see Gilles Cuniberti here on a related issue of the application of the lex causae to interim proceedings, with the French Supreme Court reversing decades of case-law to hold that interim measures are included in the lex causae, not subject to lex fori.

I am busy on many fronts and not complaining, yet I am sorry if some posts are therefore a little later than planned. A quick flag of Duffy v Centraal Beheer Achmea [2020] EWHC 3341 (QB) in which Coe J noted parties agreed that interim payments are included in the Rome II exemption of evidence and procedure: at 8:

The claim is brought in the English Court against a Dutch motor insurer and it is agreed that the law of the Netherlands applies to this claim in tort. The claimant, as a result of Dutch law has a direct right of action against the insurer and, following the decision in FBTO v Odenbreit [2007] C 463-06, the jurisdiction of the English Court is not an issue. The law of the Netherlands applies (pursuant to Article 41(1) of the Rome II Regulation on applicable law in tort (Regulation 864/2007)). Dutch law will govern limitation, breach of duty and causation as well as the existence of, the nature of and the assessment of damages to which the claimant might be entitled. Matters of procedure and evidence are nonetheless reserved to the forum court (see Article 15 (c) of the Rome II Regulation and Article 1(3)). This is an application for an interim payment which is a procedural application and thus governed by English law. However, when it comes to any assessment of the damages to which the claimant might be entitled on which to base the interim payment decision, Dutch law has to be applied.

Coe J has little reason to disagree however I imagine she would have entertained the issues more had the distinction between Dutch and English law on the interim payment issue been materially different, hence had counsel made diverging noise. For as I have signalled before, the extent of the evidence and procedure exemption is not clear at all.

Geert.

EU Private International Law. 3rd ed. 2021, Chapter 4, Heading 4.8.

 

Lyle & Scott v American Eagle. The High Court holds the applicable law for passing off does not fly under IPR wings.

Lyle & Scott Ltd v American Eagle Outfitters, Inc [2021] EWHC 90 (Ch) entertains ia the question whether the governing law for passing-off claims involving an eagle trademark, fall under Article 6 or 8 Rome II. The application is for an earlier order allowing service of jurisdiction, to be set aside.

Parties had agreed a ‘memorandum’ (which may or may not be a ‘contract’ – it is further referred to in the judgment as a ‘contract’) following a disagreement on whether each corporation’s eagle (L&S’s being trademarked in the UK and various EU Member States; AEO’s not being trademarked here, I understand) incorporated in apparel involved infringement of trademark and passing off.

Image 1

AEO are domiciled in the US  and have no physical presence in the UK (or, one assumes, anywhere in the EU (the litigation was initiated pre-Brexit); their apparel is offered via online sales.

Jurisdiction is decided on the basis of the laws of E&W. Applicable law comes into the discussion for per Lord Mance at 46 in VTB v Nutritek,

“The governing law, which is here English, is in general terms, a positive factor in favour of trial in England, because it is generally preferable, other things being equal, that a case should be tried in the country whose law applies. However, that factor is of particular force if issues of law are likely to be important and if there is evidence of relevant differences in the legal principles or rules applicable to such issues in the two countries in contention as the appropriate forum…”.

Miles J discusses the governing law issue at 64 ff. Claimant argue the claim comes under A8 Rome II: infringement of intellectual property rights, English law, lex loci protectionis. Defendants argue they fall under A4 (by way of A6(2): Act of unfair competition), and that A4(3) is engaged to make the applicable law that of the state of Pennsylvania, because of the ‘contractual’ relationship.

At 72 Miles J agrees with the classification under A6, holding ia that ‘(t)he cause of action protects the goodwill of traders against deceptive conduct; goodwill is not an intellectual property right; and passing off is not the infringement of a right.’ Unlike the judge I do not think Rome II’s recital is of much help here and I suspect more can be made of the comparative law insights (common law and civil law) offered.

The next question is whether the claim falls within A6 (2). In Miles J’s succinctly expressed view it does, at 73: ‘The act of unfair competition alleged (passing off) affects exclusively the interests of a specific competitor (L&S). It follows that Art. 4 applies.’ As I have often noted, I find it very difficult to think of acts of unfair competition do not ultimately also impact the consumers of those involved.

The final hurdle then is whether A4(3) is engaged to displace E&W law as the lex loci damni, which at 75 the judge holds is not the case. Parties have not agreed on a governing law for the ‘contract’, they have conducted previous proceedings on the basis of that law being the laws of Pennsylvania. However even if the lex contractus is probably Penn law, and English law probably the lex causae for the passing off claim, Miles J holds this should not have an impact at the jurisdictional level: particularly seeing as there is no immediate reason to assume E&W courts will have great difficulty in applying Penn law to what on the contractual substance does not seem an overly complicated case.

Application dismissed, service out of jurisdiction stands.

This case once again highlights the level of complication resulting from having inserted different heads of applicable law into Rome II – a phenomenon which as I recently reported, might soon be expanded upon.

Geert.

EU private international law, 3rd ed. 2021, Chapter 4, Heading 4.5.2, 4.6.2, 4.6.4.

Owen v Galgey. Applying A4(2) Rome II to multiparty claims (following Marshall), and a rare, if in my view uncertain, reversal using A4(3)’s ‘manifestly more closely connected’ escape clause.

Update 29 January 2021 today posted additional critical analysis here.

In Owen v Galgey & Ors [2020] EWHC 3546 (QB), Linden J yesterday dealt with the application of Rome II’s common habitual residence exception to A4(1) lex loci damni rule, and with the general escape clause of A4(3).

These cases often involve tragic accidents and injuries and the sec conflict of laws analysis below in no way of course mean any disrespect to claimant and his loved ones.

Claimant is a British citizen who is domiciled and habitually resident in England. He brings a claim for damages for personal injury sustained by him as result of an accident in France (3 April 2018), when he fell into an empty swimming pool which was undergoing works at a villa in France, a holiday home owned by the First Defendant, whose wife is the Second Defendant. They are also British citizens who are domiciled and habitually resident in England, Third Defendant is a company domiciled in France, and the public liability insurer of the First and Second Defendants. Fourth Defendant is a contractor which was carrying out renovation works on the swimming pool at the time of the accident. Fifth Defendant is the public liability insurer of the Fourth Defendant. Fourth and Fifth Defendants are both companies which are domiciled in France.

That French law applies to the claims against Fourth and Fifth Defendant is undisputed. There is however a dispute as to the applicable law in relation to his claims against the First to Third Defendants. These Defendants contend that, by operation of A4(2) Rome II, English law applies because the Claimant and the First and Second Defendants are habitually resident in England. Claimant contends that French law applies by operation of A4(3) Rome II: the ‘manifestly more closely connected’ rule.

Textual argument suggest that on the basis of the text of Recital 18 and A4(2) itself, A4(2) only applies to two party cases and does not apply in multi-party cases. Linden J at 29 notes that this would also correspond with the narrow reading required of A4(2). However he follows of course the authority of Marshall, which I approved of at the time (if only because, if multi-party claims were outside the scope of A42(), it would suffice for either claimant artificially to add a defendant to the claim, or for a defendant similarly to manoeuvre in a second defendant, for A4(2) to become inoperable). A4(2) also applies if more than one party is involved.

On A4(3), then, Marshall, too, is authority and Winrow v Hemphill another rare case that seriously engaged with the issue. In the latter case, Slade J held that the balance was in favour of not applying the escape clause, particularly in view of the period of time of habitual residence in Germany, and subsequent continuing residence in that country (inter alia for follow-up treatment). In the former, Dingemans J did reach a conclusion of applying A4(3) hence lex causae being French law on the grounds I discuss in my post on the case. Here, Linden J discusses the various factors at issue in Winrow v Hemphill and in Marhsall and reaches a conclusion of French law:

In my view it is clear that the tort/delict in the present case is manifestly more closely connected with France. France is where the centre of gravity of the situation is located and the preponderance of factors clearly points to this conclusion. This conclusion also accords with the legitimate expectations of the parties.

The reasons for that are essentially listed at (75  ff)

The tort/delict occurred in France, as I have noted. This is also where the injury or direct damage occurred. The dispute centres on a property in France and it concerns structural features of that property and how the First, Second and Fourth Defendants dealt with works on a swimming pool there. Although these defendants deny that there was fault on the part of any of them, the First and Second Defendants say that the Fourth Defendant was responsible if the pool presented a danger and the Fourth Defendant says that they were. The allegations of contributory negligence/fault also centre on the Claimant’s conduct whilst at the Villa in France.

The First and Second Defendants also had a significant and long-standing connection to France, the accident occurred on their property and the works were carried out by a French company pursuant to a contract with them which is governed by French law. Their insurer, the Third Defendant, is a French company and they are insured under a contract which is governed by French law. The contract was to insure a property in France albeit one which, I accept, applied to claims under English and French law. It is also common ground that the claim against the Fourth Defendant, and therefore against the Fifth Defendant, also a French company, is entirely governed by French law and will require the court to decide whether the Fourth Defendant or, at least by implication, the First and Second Defendants were “custodians” of the property for the purposes of French law.

Whilst it cannot be said at this stage that, by analogy with Marshall, the accident was entirely caused by the Fourth Defendant in particular, the situation in relation to the swimming pool which is said to have been the cause of the accident was firmly rooted in France and it resulted from works which were being carried out by the Fourth Defendant as a result of it being contracted to do so by the First and Second Defendants. The liability of the First and Second Defendants, if any, will be affected by how they dealt with that situation, including by evidence about their dealings with the Fourth Defendant. That situation had no significant connections with England other than the nationality and habitual place of residence of the First and Second Defendants.

The core counterarguments which were dismissed, are (78 ff)

I take the point that the Claimant and the First and Second Defendants were habitually resident in England at the relevant time, that there was a pre-existing relationship between them, and that the Claimant and his family came to be at the Villa as a result of an agreement which was made in England. But, applying an objective test (see Chitty on Contract Volume 1 at paragraph 2-171 in particular), I am not satisfied that this agreement, on the information available at this stage, was contractual in nature. Part of the difficulty in relation to this aspect of the First to Third Defendants’ argument is that there is very little information before the court as to what precisely happened. Looking at the agreed facts in the context of the statements of case and the other materials which I have been shown, however, it appears that the agreement resulted from a casual conversation between social acquaintances in the context of mutual favours having been done in the past. It was informal in nature and it appears that the Claimant offered to do the work as a favour and the First and Second Defendant invited him and his family to the Villa to return that favour.

If I had found that there was a contract, I would also likely have found that it was governed by French law. Although it was entered into in England between British parties, it related entirely to a property in France. Performance of the contract on both sides could only be effected at a particular property in France and was very strongly connected to France in that it involved work on a villa there and a family holiday there. This and the other features of the case would have led me to conclude that [A4(3) Rome I] indicated that there was a manifestly closer connection between the contract and France, although I acknowledge that there is a degree of circularity in this approach. ….

Mr Doherty understandably emphasised that, even if there was no contract with the Claimant, the relationship and the agreement which led to the Claimant and his family being in France were based and made in England. I was also initially attracted by his argument that in effect the Claimant’s complaint is about the way in which the First and Second Defendants fulfilled their side of that agreement. But that is not the claim which he makes, and, in any event, their performance of the agreement was in the form of allowing the Claimant and his family to occupy a villa in France. Nor is this a case in which, for example, the injury occurred whilst the Claimant was carrying out work on the Villa and potential tortious and contractual duties (if the relationship was contractual) therefore arose directly out of the relationship between the parties.

To my mind the tort/delict in this case is much more closely connected to the state of the swimming pool which, as I have said, was part of a property in France and resulted from the French law contract between the First and Second Defendants and the Fourth Defendant. If any of the Defendants is liable, that liability will be closely connected with this contract. This point, taken in combination with the other points to which I have referred, in my view clearly outweighs the existence of any contract with the Claimant relating to the Villa, even if I had found there to be a contractual relationship and even if it was governed by English law.

Similarly, although I have taken into account the nationality and habitual place of residence of the Claimant and the First and Second Defendants, these do not seem to me to alter the conclusion to which I have come. I have also taken into account the fact that the consequences of the accident have to a significant extent been suffered by the Claimant whilst he was in England, but in my view the other factors to which I have referred clearly outweigh this consideration.

Of particular note for future direction on Rome II, is the discussion on existing pre-contractual relations.

This is of course a fact-specific and to a certain extent, discretionary assessment. I also agree there is no limit to the kinds and amount of factors which a judge may take into account when applying the A4(3) exception.

I am minded to disagree with the conclusion reached here, however.  The judge’s assessment is one that echoes a proper law of the tort approach, starting from scratch. But that is not what A4(3) is about: it does not start from scratch; it starts from the clearly stated rule of A4(1) or A4(2), which require a lot of heavy lifting to be dislodged. The arguments pro upholding the A4(2) presumption listed in 78ff in my view give the finding for sustaining its consequence and hence English law as lex causae, strong foundations indeed which I believe, respectfully of course, the judge did not show enough deference to.

Geert.

European Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 4.5.

 

Shenzen Senior Technology Material v Celgard. On Rome II’s rule applicable law rule for unfair competition, distinguishing ‘direct’ from ‘indirect’ damage, and the Trade Secrets Directive.

Shenzhen Senior Technology Material Co Ltd v Celgard, LLC [2020] EWCA Civ 1293 concerns an appeal against service out of jurisdiction (the judgment appealed is [2020] EWHC 2072 (Ch)). Celgard allege that the importation and marketing by Senior of battery separator film involves the misuse of Celgard’s trade secrets.

Senior (of China) contend that the judge fell into error in concluding, first, that Celgard (incorporated in Delaware) had established a serious issue to be tried (here part of the jurisdictional threshold) assuming that English law applies to its claims and, secondly, that England is the proper forum to try the claims. As to the latter the core argument is that in limiting its claims to remedies in respect of acts in the UK, Celgard could not establish the requisite degree of connection to England. As for the former, they argue the law applicable to Celgard’s claims is Chinese law, which would count against jurisdiction.

Strategically, Celgard’s case against Senior is not based on breach of the NDA applicable between Celgard and one of its former employees,  Dr Zhang who, when he left Celgard, told its then COO that he was going to work for General Electric in California, which does not compete with Celgard in the field of battery separators. It later transpired that he had in fact joined Senior in China, where he was using the false name “Bin Wang”. This element of the facts triggers the question whether Senior is liable for the acts of another, even if that other is its employee.

The Celgard – Zhang NDA is governed by the law of South Carolina, application of which would also have triggered A4(3)(b) or (c) of the Trade Secrets Directive 2016/943. Celgard do rely on the NDA as supporting its case that the trade secrets were confidential. Rather Celgard claim that Senior’s employee acted in breach of an equitable obligation. This engages Rome II,  specifically Article 6(2) because Celgard’s claims are concerned with an act of unfair competition affecting exclusively the interests of a specific competitor, namely Celgard. In such circumstances, Article 6(2) provides that “Article 4 shall apply”.

Of note is that this is one of those cases that show that Rome II applies to more than just tortious obligations: as Arnold LJ notes at 51, as a matter of English law, claims for breach of equitable obligations of confidence are not claims in tort.

Celgard’s case, accepted by Trowe J at the High Court, is that A4(1) leads to English law because the ‘direct damage’ (per Rome II and CJEU Lazard indirect damage needs to be ignored) caused by the wrongdoing it complains of has occurred (and will, if not restrained, continue to occur) in the UK, that being the country into which the infringing goods (namely the shipment to the UK Customer and any future shipments of the same separator) have been (and will be) imported, causing damage to Celgard’s market here.

Senior’s case is that confidential information is intangible property and that damage to intangible property is located at the time and place it became irreversible (support is sought in extracts from Andrew Dickinson’s Rome II volume with OUP). At 58 ff Arnold LJ gives 7 reasons for rejecting the position. I will not repeat them all here. Of note is not just the (most justifiable) heavy leaning on the travaux but also the support sought in secondary EU law different from private international law (such as the Trade Secrets Directive 2016/943) as well as in the consistency between Brussels Ia and the Rome Regulations [on which Szpunar AG has written excellently in Burkhard Hess and Koen Lenaerts (eds.), The 50th Anniversary of the European Law of Civil Procedure]. This is not an easy proposition however given the lack of detail in Rome I and the need for autonomous EU interpretation, understandable.

The Trade Secrets Directive is further discussed at 65 ff for in A4(5) it makes importation of infringing goods an unlawful use of a trade secret “where the person carrying out such activities knew, or ought, under the circumstances, to have known that the trade secret was used unlawfully within the meaning of paragraph 3”. One of the possibilities embraced by paragraph 3 is (a), the person “having acquired the trade secret unlawfully”. Arnold LJ then asks: what law is to be applied to determine whether it was acquired “unlawfully”? Is A4(5) read together with A4(3)(a) an implicit choice of law rule pointing to the law of the place where the trade secret was acquired? Arnold LJ suggests this is not acte clair and may need CJEU clarification however not at this stage for his provisional view (with an eye on the jurisdictional threshold test) is that the Directive is not an implicit choice of law rule and that per Rome II, English law applies.

Plenty applicable law issues to discuss at the merits stage.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 4, Heading 4.6.2. Third ed. forthcoming February 2021.

 

 

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