The CJEU confirms a corporation’s general duty of care is not caught by the corporate carve-out. Judgment in ZK v BMA (Peeters Gatzen suit) impacts on business and human rights litigation, too.

The CJEU a little while back held in C‑498/20 ZK v BMA on the applicable law for the Dutch ‘Peeters Gatzen’ suit, for which I reviewed the AG Opinion here. The suit is  a tortious suit brought by a liquidator. In Nk v BNP Paribas the CJEU held at the jurisdictional level it is covered by Brussels Ia, not by the Insolvency Regulation.

A first issue of note, which I discuss at some length in my earlier post, is whether the liability is carved-out from Rome II as a result of the lex societatis provision. The CJEU confirms the AG’s contextual analysis, without repeating his general criterion, emphasises the need for restrictive interpretation, and specifically for the duty of care holds that liability resulting from a duty of care of a corporation’s bodies and the outside world, is covered by Rome II. This is important for business and human rights litigation, too: [55]

Pour ce qui concerne spécifiquement le manquement au devoir de diligence en cause au principal, il convient de distinguer selon qu’il s’agit du devoir spécifique de diligence découlant de la relation entre l’organe et la société, qui ne relève pas du champ d’application matériel du règlement Rome II, ou du devoir général de diligence  erga omnes, qui en relève. Il appartient à la seule juridiction de renvoi de l’apprécier.

The referring judge will have to decide whether the case engages the duty of care vis-a-vis the wider community (including the collectivity of creditors) however it would seem most likely that it does. If it does, locus damni is held, confirming the AG view, to be The Netherlands if the referring judge finds that the insolvent corporation’s seat is based there. The financial damage with the creditors is indirect only and does not establish jurisdiction.

[44] Should a judge decide that they do not have jurisdiction over the main claim, they also and necessarily have to relinquish jurisdiction over the warranty /guarantee claim against a third party under A8(2) BIa. CJEU Sovag is referred to in support.

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 reviews 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.

Lakatamia Shipping. On (in)direct damage, applicable law (A4(3) Rome II) and conspiracy.

Lakatamia Shipping Co Ltd v Su & Ors [2021] EWHC 1907 (Comm)  discusses i.a. [840 ff; this is a lengthy judgment] the applicable law in the case of conspiracy. Lakatamia advance two claims against the Defendants, the first re dissipation of two assets (net sale proceeds of two Monegasque villas – the Monaco conspiracy and a private jet – the Aeroplane conspiracy)  in breach of a World Wide Freezing Order (“WFO”)  and secondly re intentional violation of rights in a judgment debt.

Lakatamia’s case as claimants is that English law applies to the claims regarding both conspiracies, whilst Madam Su’s case is that Monaco law applies to the claim regarding the Monaco Sale Proceeds and that an unspecified law (but not English law) applies to the Aeroplane Conspiracy.

None of the specific categories of torts in the Rome II Regulation are said to apply, bringing the focus therefore on the general rule of Article 4(1), with firstly its insistence that only direct damage determines lex causae, not indirect damage.

At 843 Bryan J, like claimants, focuses on the judgment:

the focus being on the freezing order and judgment, with the damage to Lakatamia being suffered in England as that is the situs of the Judgment Debt arising out of the Underlying Proceeding in England, policed by the… Freezing Order, and that is where the Judgment Debt stands to be paid, and where Lakatamia suffers damage if it is not paid or the ability for it to be paid is impaired – put another way England is the country where the Judgment Debt should have been paid, and the damage has accordingly occurred here.

To support the point, at 845 ff English and CJEU authority (much of it also reviewed on this blog) under A7(2)BIa is discussed albeit the judge correctly cautions ‘Authorities on the Brussels Regulation are “likely to be useful” but are not of direct application’. Core reference is Pan Oceanic,

(6)  There is a difference between a case in which the claimant complains that he has lost his money or goods (as in the Marinari case [1996] QB 217 or the Domicrest case [1999] QB 548 ) and a case in which the claimant complains that he has not received money or goods which he should have received. In the former case the harm may be regarded as occurring in the place where the money or goods were lost, although the loss may be said to have been consequentially felt in the claimant’s domicile. In the latter case the harm lies in the non-receipt of the money or goods at the place where they ought to have been received, and the damage to him is likely to have occurred in the place where he should have received them: the Dolphin case [2010] 1 All ER (Comm) 473 , para 60 and the Réunion Européenne case [2000] QB 690 , paras 35-36. (emphasis in the original).

I am not entirely convinced. While it is true that the conspiracy clearly impacts on the receipts, this is the consequence of actual behaviour by defendants elsewhere, with actual impact of that behaviour in that same place abroad. I do not think it is inconceivable to qualify the damage in England as ricochet hence indirect damage. The discussion here leads to CJEU Lazar which, it would seem, was not discussed in the proceedings.

At 860 at any rate, the judge lists his reasons for picking English law as the ‘proper law of the tort’ per A4(3) Rome II. This may be a more solid decision than the A4(1) decision.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 4.30, para 4.39 ff.

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.

 

 

 

 

GDE v Anglia Autoflow. Governing law for agency agreements under the Rome Convention.

Update 26 May 2020 for a Greek SC judgment discussing choice of court v choice of law in agency, and applying CJEU C-159/97 Trasporti Castelleti, see here.

In GDE LLC & Anor v Anglia Autoflow Ltd [2020] EWHC 105 (Comm) (31) the Rome I Regulation does not apply ratione temporis; the Agency Agreement was concluded on about 9 April 2009 which is a few months before the kick-off date of the Regulation (note there is no default rule for agency in Article 4 Rome I in the event of lack of lex voluntatis). Dias DJ therefore turns to the 1980 Rome Convention.

Parties are in dispute as to the governing law of the Agency Agreement by which the claims should be determined. AAL alleges that the governing law is that of Ontario while the Claimants allege that the Agency Agreement is governed by English law. The point is of critical importance because the Claimants concede that, if AAL is correct, their claim is time-barred under Ontario law: although this, as readers know, assumes statutes of limitation are subject to the governing law – which is far from certain: see Jabir v KIK and Spring v MOD.

Parties’ arguments are at 10 and 11 and of course they reverse engineer. In essence (at 20) claimants say that there was an implied choice of English law. Alternatively, if that is not correct, the presumption in Article 4(2) of the Rome Convention, which would otherwise point to Georgia law, falls to be disapplied in favour of English law. The Defendant says that there was no implied choice and that application of Article 4(2) leads to Ontario law. Alternatively, if (which it denies) the presumption in Article 4(2) leads to any other governing law, the presumption is to be disapplied in favour of Ontario.

At 21 ff follows a rather creative (somewhat linked to the discussion of ex officio Rome Convention application in The Alexandros), certainly unexpected (yet clearly counsel will do what counsel must do) argument that essentially puts forward that under the common law approach of foreign law = fact hence must be proven, any discussion of a law as governing law, not suggested by the parties (here: the laws of (the US State of) Georgia) that is not English law (which clearly the English curia does ‘novit’), cannot go ahead. At 22 Dias DJ already signals that ‘once the wheels of the Convention had been put in motion, they could not be stopped short of their ultimate destination. The idea that the process dictated by the Convention should be hijacked halfway, as it were, on the basis of a pleading point was, to my mind, deeply unattractive.’

At 31 she sinks the argument. I think she is right.

Having at length considered the facts relevant to the contract formation, discussion then turns again to the Rome Convention with at 105 ff a debate on the role to be played by factors intervening after contract formation with a view to establishing [implicit, but certain: see at 117 with reference to the various language versions of the Convention and the Regulation essentially confirming the French version] choice of law or closest connection. (Dias J refers to the Court of Appeal in Lawlor v Sandvik Mining and Construction Mobile Crushers and Screens Ltd, [2013] EWCA Civ 365[2013] 2 Lloyd’s Rep 98 where, at paragraphs 21-27, it pointed out that the common law approach frequently blurred the distinction between the search for the parties’ inferred intention and the search for the system of law with which the contract had its closest and most real connection).

At 120: the hurdle is high: choice of law implicitly made must have nevertheless been made: ‘The court is not looking for the choice that the parties probably would have made if they had turned their minds to the question.’ at 122: In the present case the evidence established that there was no reference by the parties to the question of governing law at all. Choice of court for England (discussed ia with reference to Rome I and to Brussels Ia Article 25) does not change that. At 160 ff therefore follows the discussion of Article 4 of the Rome Convention, leading to a finding of the laws of Ontario as the lex contractus under Article 4(1). Article 4(5) does not displace it.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.4, Heading 3.2.6.

%d bloggers like this: