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.

Brussels IA arbitration exception claxon. Recognition of Spanish Prestige judgment in England & Wales. Res judicata issues concerning arbitration referred to the CJEU. Ordre public exceptions re Human Rights not upheld.

The London Steam-Ship Mutual Insurance Association Ltd v The Kingdom of Spain (M/T PRESTIGE) [2021] EWHC 1247 (Comm) has been in my blog in-tray for a little while: I had thought of using it for exam purposes but have now decided against that.

The case is the appeal against Cook J’s registration of the Spanish judgment in the Prestige disaster.  I have reported thrice before on the wider litigation – please use tag ‘Prestige’ in the search box.

References in the judgment are to Brussels I (44/2001), not its successor, Brussels Ia (1215/2012) however the  relevant provisions have not materially changed. Application is for recognition and enforcement of the Spanish Judgment to be refused,  and the Registration Order to be set aside for one or both of two main reasons, namely: (1) that the Spanish Judgment is irreconcilable with a 2013 Hamblen J order, upheld on Appeal,  enforcing the  relevant Spanish award (A34(3) BI), and (2) that recognition would entail a manifest breach of English public policy in respect of (a) the rule of res judicata and/or (b) human and fundamental rights (A34(1) BI).

Butcher J referred the first issue to the CJEU on 18 December 2020 – just before the Brexit deadline. I have not been able to obtain a copy of that judgment – the judge merely refers to it in current one. The CJEU reference, now known as Case C-700/20, is quite exciting for anyone interested in the relationship between arbitration and the Brussels regime. Questions referred, are

1) Given the nature of the issues which the national court is required to determine in deciding whether to enter judgment in the terms of an award under Section 66 of the Arbitration Act 1996, is a judgment granted pursuant to that provision capable of constituting a relevant ‘judgment’ of the Member State in which recognition is sought for the purposes of Article 34(3) of EC Regulation No 44/2001?

(2) Given that a judgment entered in the terms of an award, such as a judgment under Section 66 of the Arbitration Act 1996, is a judgment falling outside the material scope of Regulation No 44/2001 by reason of the Article 1(2)(d) arbitration exception, is such a judgment capable of constituting a relevant ‘judgment’ of the Member State in which recognition is sought for the purposes of Article 34(3) of the Regulation?

(3) On the hypothesis that Article 34(3) of Regulation No 44/2001 does not apply, if recognition and enforcement of a judgment of another Member State would be contrary to domestic public policy on the grounds that it would violate the principle of res judicata by reason of a prior domestic arbitration award or a prior judgment entered in the terms of the award granted by the court of the Member State in which recognition is sought, is it permissible to rely on Article 34(1) of Regulation No 44/2001 as a ground of refusing recognition or enforcement or do Articles 34(3) and (4) of the Regulation provide the exhaustive grounds by which res judicata and/or irreconcilability can prevent recognition and enforcement of a Regulation judgment?

These are exciting questions both on the arbitration exception and on the res judicata refusal for recognition and enforcement. They bring into focus the aftermath of CJEU West Tankers in which the status of the High Court confirmation of the English award was also an issue.

The Club’s argument that recognition would be contrary to English public policy because the Spanish Judgment involved a breach of human and fundamental rights was not referred to the CJEU. Discussion  here involves ia CJEU Diageo. Suggested breaches, are A 14(5) ICCPR; breach of fundamental rights in the Master being convicted on the basis of new factual findings made by the Supreme Court; inequality of arms; and; A1P1.

There is little point in rehashing the analysis made by Butcher J: conclusion at any rate is that all grounds fail.

That CJEU case is one to look out for!

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed 2021, 2.84 ff, 2.590 ff.

 

WWWRT v Tyshchenko. Interesting if contestable engagement with Brussels IA’s Article 34’s forum non-light regime.

In WWRT Ltd v Tyshchenko & Anor [2021] EWHC 939 (Ch) and following an earlier Worldwide Freezing Order, Bacon J engages with Article 34 Brussels Ia’s forum non conveniens ‘light’ regime.

The proceedings are brought by WWRT ltd against Mr Serhiy Tyshchenko and his ex-wife, Mrs Olena Tyshchenko. The claim is founded on an allegation that the Defendants carried out an extensive fraud on the Ukrainian bank, JSC Fortuna Bank during which time the bank was (it is claimed) ultimately owned by Mr Tyshchenko. The bank was subsequently declared insolvent and was liquidated, in the course of which a package of its assets, including the disputed loans, was sold to Ukrainian company Star Investment One LLC.  Star in turn sold those rights and assets to WWRT in March 2020. WWRT’s case is that following those two assignments it has now acquired the rights to bring the claim relied upon in the present proceedings, which is one in tort under Article 1166 of the Ukrainian Civil Code.

In current proceedings, defendants contest jurisdiction, on the basis of 3 alternative grounds:

Firstly, the principle of ‘modified universalism’ (which I have discussed ia here) which should ground a stay under common law so as to prevent WWRT from bypassing the Ukrainian insolvency proceedings. The suggestion is that CJEU Owusu did not deal with a potential stay to allow the judge in one EU Member State to stay proceedings so as to support insolvency proceedings in another Member State. Bacon J held [57], in my view justifiably, that even if indeed the CJEU in Owusu did not specifically deal with this issue, its reasoning (particularly the insistence on predictability and legal certainty) extends to the current scenario. Insolvency proceedings may well (and indeed clearly) fall outside BIa’s scope, however the claim at issue is one in tort, which falls squarely within it. At 62 ff he discusses obiter that even if such stay would have been theoretically possible, he would not have exercised his discretion to grant it.

Secondly, at 89 ff, a stay by analogy with A34 BIa. It is seemingly common ground between the parties and the judge that the bankruptcy exclusion in A1 BIa precludes the express application of A34 if the pending action in the third State is in the nature of bankruptcy or insolvency proceedings. Support is found in Baker J’s views in BB Energy. This is not a settled issue. Neither is much discussion, pro or contra, of the in my view unjustifiable finding of reflexive application of A28 Lugano in JSC Commercial Bank v Kolomoisky [2019] EWCA Civ 1708. The more sound rejection of an A34 stay in the case at issue  in my view lies in the judge’s obiter finding at 95 that the proceedings in E&W are not ‘related’ to those in the Ukraine.

Thirdly, a more straightforward argument of lack of domicile of one of the defendants in the UK, hence room for a forum non conveniens stay. This argument was in fact dealt with first, at 38 ff, with Bacon J  holding on the basis of a pattern of settled residence that domicile was in fact established. At 98 ff he holds obiter that even if A4 hence BIa had not been engaged, he would not have allowed a stay on forum non grounds.

In conclusion, the freezing orders were continued.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed 2021, para 2.539 ff

Suing ‘Norsk Hydro’ in The Netherlands. No engagement it seems of Article 33-34 BIa ‘from 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.

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 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.

Petrobas securities class action. Applicable law update: Dutch court holds under Rome II on lex causae in tort for purely economic loss. Place of listing wins the day (and leads to Mozaik).

Thank you Matthias Lehmann for flagging and reviewing the Rotterdam Court’s judgment late in January on applicable law in the Petrobas case. I had earlier reviewed the jurisdictional issues, particularly the application of Brussels Ia’s Article 33-34.

The case relates to a Brazilian criminal investigation into alleged bribery schemes within Petrobras, which took place between 2004 and 2014. The court first, and of less interest for the blog, deals with a representation issue, holding that Portuguese speakers cannot be represented in the class, for the Portuguese version of the relevant dispute settlement provisions, unlike the English translation, was not faulty.

Turning then to applicable law at 5.39 ff. Events occurring on or after 12 January 2009 are subject to the Rome II Regulation. For those before that date, Dutch residual PIL applies which the Court held make Brazilian law lex causae as lex loci delicti commissi: for that is where the alleged fraud, bribery and witholding of information happened.

For the events which are covered by Rome II, the court does not wait for the CJEU finding in VEB v BP and squarely takes inspiration from the CJEU case-law on purely financial damage and jurisdiction: Kronhofer, Kolassa, Universal Music. The court notes that the CJEU in these cases emphasised a more than passing or incidental contact with a State (such as: merely the presence of a bank account) as being required to establish jurisdiction as locus damni. At 5.47 it rejects the place of the investor’s account as relevant (for this may change rapidly and frequently over time and may also be easily manipulated) and it identifies the place of the market where the financial instruments are listed and traded as being such a place with a particular connection to the case: it is the place where the value of the instruments is impacted and manifests itself. It is also a place that meets with the requirements of predictability and legal certainty: neither buyer nor seller will be surprised that that location should provide lex causae.

Conclusion therefore is one of Mozaik: Brasil, Argentina, Germany, Luxembourg are lex causae as indeed may be other places where Petrobas financial instruments are listed. (At 5.49: Article 4(2)’s joint domicile exception may make Dutch law the lex causae depending on who sues whom).

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed.2016, Chapter 4, Heading 4.4.

 

 

 

 

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 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.

Steinhoff: The court at Amsterdam may yet rule on ‘first seized’ in Article 33-34 Brussels Ia’s forum non-light rules.

In California Public Employees’ Retirement System et al v Steinhoff International Holdings NV et al, the Rechtbank Amsterdam stayed proceedings in The Netherlands on the basis of Article 30 Brussels Ia (related actions), in favour of proceedings, started earlier, in Germany.

Despite the nominal difference in applicable law (Dutch cq German), the Court held that at the end of the day, both the Dutch and German laws in the competing proceedings aimed to determine whether the corporations at issue were liable for having released misleading financial information.

Of note to the blog is also the potential for lis pendens with South African proceedings, under Article 33 or 34 Brussels Ia. The court announced that it would revisit these articles if and when the stay on the basis if lis pendens in Germany, were to be lifted. This includes the question whether, to decide whether a non-EU court has been seized first, A32 BIa ought to be followed . Under Dutch residual rules, the lex fori in the foreign proceedings determines  the timing of seizure.

Finally, the court also held it was staying the proceedings against other defendants, domiciled at California, until such time as the CJEU will have held in Vereniging van Effectenbezitters v BP, which will hopefully shed light on locus damni in cases of purely economic loss. (The court having rejected The Netherlands as locus delicti commissi.) Dutch residual rules on the issue are applied mutatis mutandis per the EU rules.

Geert.

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