Posts Tagged Article 34
Petrobas securities class action firmly anchored in The Netherlands. Rotterdam court applying i.a. forum non conveniens under Brussels Ia.
Many thanks to Jeffrey Kleywegt and Robert Van Vugt for re-reporting Stichting Petrobas Compensation Foundation v PetrÓleo Brasilieiro SA – PETROBRAS et al. The case, held in September (judgment in NL and in EN) relates to a Brazilian criminal investigation into alleged bribery schemes within Petrobras, which took place between 2004 and 2014. the Court had to review the jurisdictional issue only at this stage, and confirmed same for much, but not all of the claims.
The Dutch internal bank for Petrobas, Petrobas Global Finance BV and the Dutch subsidiary of Petrobas, Petrobas Oil and Gas BV are the anchor defendants. Jurisdiction against them was easily established of course under Article 4 Brussels Ia.
Issues under discussion, were
Firstly, against the Dutch defendants: Application of the new Article 34 ‘forum non conveniens’ mechanism which I have reported on before re English and Gibraltar courts. At 5.45: defendants request a stay of the proceedings on account of lis pendens, until a final decision has been given in the United States, alternatively Brazil, about claims that are virtually identical to those brought by the Foundation. They additionally argue a stay on case management grounds. However the court finds
with respect to a stay in favour of the US, that
the US courts will not judge on the merits, since there is a class settlement; and that
for the proceedings in which these courts might eventually hold on the merits (particularly in the case of claimants having opted out of the settlement), it is unclear what the further course of these proceedings will be and how long they will continue. For that reason it is also unclear if a judgment in these actions is to be expected at ‘reasonably short notice’: delay of the proceedings is a crucial factor in the Article 34 mechanism.
with respect to a stay in favour of Brasil, that Brazilian courts unlike the Dutch (see below) have ruled and will continue to rule in favour of the case having to go to arbitration, and that such awards might not even be recognisable in The Netherlands (mutatis mutandis, the Anerkennungsprognose of Article 34).
Further, against the non-EU based defendants, this of course takes place under residual Dutch rules, particularly
Firstly Article 7(1)’s anchor defendants mechanism such as it does in Shell. The court here found that exercise of jurisdiction would not be exorbitant, as claimed by Petrobas: most of the claims against the Dutch and non-Dutch defendants are so closely connected as to justify a joint hearing for reasons of efficiency, in order to prevent irreconcilable judgments from being given in the event that the cases were heard and determined separately: a clear echo of course of CJEU authority on Article 8(1). The court also rejects the suggestion that application of the anchor mechanism is abusive.
It considers these issues at 5.11 ff: relevant is inter alia that the Dutch defendants have published incorrect, incomplete, and/or misleading financial information, have on the basis of same during the fraud period issued shares, bonds or securities and in that period have deliberately and wrongly raised expectations among investors. Moreover, at 5:15: Petrobras has itself stated on its website that it has a strategic presence in the Netherlands.
Against two claims ‘involvement’ of the NL-based defendants was not withheld, and jurisdiction denied.
Further, a subsidiary jurisdictional claim for these two rejected claims on the basis of forum necessitatis (article 9 of the Duch CPR) was not withheld: Brazilian authorities are clearly cracking down on fraud and corruption (At 5.25 ff).
Finally and again for these two remaining claims, are the Netherlands the place where the harmful event occurred (Handlungsort) and /or the place where the damage occurred (Erfolgsort)? Not so, the court held: at 5.22: the Foundation has not stated enough with regard to the involvement of the Dutch defendants in those claims, for the harmful event to be localised in the Netherlands with some sufficient force. As for locus damni and with echos of Universal Music: at 5.24: that the place where the damage has occurred is situated in the Netherlands, cannot be drawn from the mere circumstance that purely financial damage has directly occurred in the Dutch bank accounts of the (allegedly) affected investors – other arguments (see at 5.24) made by the Foundation did not convince.
Finally, an argument was made that the Petrobas arbitration clause contained in its articles of association, rule out recourse to the courts in ordinary. Here, an interesting discussion took place on the relevant language version to be consulted: the Court went for the English one, seeing as this is a text which is intended to be consulted by persons all over the world (at 5.33). The English version of article 58 of the articles of association however is insufficiently clear and specific: there is no designated forum to rule on any disputes covered by the clause. Both under Dutch and Brazilian law, the Court held, giving up the constitutional right of gaining access to the independent national court requires that the clause clearly states that arbitration has been agreed. That clarity is absent: the version consulted by the court read
“Art. 58 -It shall be resolved by means of arbitration [italics added, district court], obeying the rules provided by the Market Arbitration Chamber, the disputes or controversies that involve the Company, its shareholders, the administrators and members of the Fiscal Council, for the purposes of the application of the provision contained in Law n° 6.404, of 1976, in this Articles of Association, in the rules issued by the National Monetary Council, by the Central Bank of Brazil and by the Brazilian
Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as in the other rules applicable to the functioning of the capital market in general, besides the ones contained in the agreements eventually executed by Petrobras with the stock exchange or over-the-counter market entity, accredited by the Brazilian Securities and Exchange Commission, aiming at the adoption of standards of corporate governance established by these entities, and of the respective rules of differentiated practices of corporate governance, as the case may be.”
A very relevant and well argued case – no doubt subject to appeal.
(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed.2016, Chapter 2, almost in its entirety.
Cheers to that! The CJEU on excise duties, alcohol, packaging and regulatory autonomy in Valev Visnapuu.
Postscript 10 December 2015 For a similar exercise, see Sharpston AG in C-472/14 Canadian Oil.
Less is sometimes more so I shall not attempt to summarise all issues in Case C-198/14 Valev Visnapuu. The case makes for sometimes condensed reading however it perfectly illustrates the way to go about dealing with obstacles to trade put in place for environmental, public health or, as in this case, both reasons.
Mr Visnapuu essentially forum shops Estonia’s lower prices on alcohol by offering Finnish clients home delivery of alcoholic beverages purchased there. No declaration of import is made to Finish customs and excise, thereby circumventing (accusation of course is that this is illegal) a variety of excise duties imposed for public health and environmental reasons, as well as a number of requirements relating to retail licenses and container requirements (essentially a deposit-return system) for beverages.
Confronted with a demand to settle various tax debts, as well as with a suspended prison sentence, Mr Visnapuu turns to EU law as his defence in a criminal proceeding. The CJEU then had to settle a variety of classic trade and environment /public health questions: whether the packaging and packaging waste Directive is exhaustive on the issue of deposit-return system (answer: no and hence the system additionally needs to be assessed vis-a-vis EU primary law: Article 34 ff TFEU or Article 110 TFEU); whether in the context of that Directive excise duties on packaging may be imposed (yes) and packaging integrated into a functioning return system exempt (yes; in the absence of indications that imported systems are less likely to enjoy the exemption); whether the relevant excise duties fall under Article 34 ff TFEU or Article 110 TFEU (answer: it is part of an internal system of taxation hence needs to be judged vis-a-vis Article 110 TFEU); and finally whether the retail licence requirement needs to be judged viz Article 34 or Article 37 TFEU (answer: mixed, given the various requirements at stake). Final judgment on proportionality is down to the Finnish courts.
Readers in need of a tipple would be advised to postpone until after reading the judgment. Again though the case shows that if one keeps a clear head, classic structures of applying EU law go a long way in untangling even complex matters of law and fact.
I have previously referred to the display ban case which Philip Morris took to the EFTA Court. I have only just recently stumbled across the eventual holding of the court which had referred the case to Luxembourg. (The Norwegian court held a year after EFTA’s judgment). Not GAVClaw style to report close to 2 years after date of issue: blame the inadequate (read lack of) system by which EFTA and indeed EU Member States report back on their eventual findings in preliminary review.
The District Court had been instructed by the EFTA Court to review whether the display ban actually affects the sale of domestic products and sale of goods from other EEA States equally. If there is de facto equal treatment, the law surfs on Keck & Mithouard’s exception for ‘selling arrangements’: no infringement of the core prohibition on quantitative restrictions to trade in the first place. (See Alberto Alemanno’s analysis of the EFTA ruling for background).
The national court suggested that the EFTA Court had not been entirely clear on how that test had to be constructed: not at any rate, it held, as a market hindrance test: i.e. that new products’ chances of entering the Norwegian tobacco market should be decisive for the question of whether a restriction exists. It referred inter alia (at p.35 of the copy referred to above) to the fact that the Norwegian Government in its submission to the EFTA Court had suggested that even though such hindrance for new products at the time did not actually exist, it could be expected indeed hoped that this would be the case. The District Court held that in the light of this acknowledgement by the Government, had the EFTA Court found this problematic, it would and should have said so explicitly. (This in some ways might be seen as a risk for the EFTA Court’s tradition, in line with the ECJ’s approach, to practice judicial economy).
The District Court in the end decided to continue the case on the basis of whether national products have a more favourable position due to local habits and customs linked to tobacco use (at p.35): the burden of proof whether the ban actually and not just potentially affects the marketing of imported tobacco products differently than domestic tobacco products lies with PMI, the Court held. That, it said, was not established with clarity: the de facto discriminatory effect of the display ban was found to be too uncertain to be considered a trade barrier.
The Court then somewhat inconsistently (do Norwegian courts practice wide obiter?) did review suitability and proportionality (not needed if Keck & Mithouard applied). Here, without naming the precautionary principle, the Court applies an important consequence often associated with it: the reversal of burden of proof. The Court essentially wanted PMI to show clear evidence for the display ban not being suitable for restricting the consumption of tobacco in Norway, at any rate in the long term (p.48). The Court essentially relies on previous case-law on tobacco advertising and equates suitability of the display ban with relevant studies and case-law on advertising restrictions. This was bound to (although the court took some length to establish it) lead to a finding of suitability.
Finally, as for proportionality proper, the court (with cross-reference i.a. on the effect of these bans elsewhere) did not find less trade restrictive alternatives (within the context of access to information or branding at point of sale).
This judgment just has to be staple fodder for risk classes and the interaction between risk analysis and trade law.