Napag Trading v Gedi. A right Italian tussle on libel over the internet, leads to jurisdictional dismissal on good arguable case grounds.

Napag Trading Ltd & Ors v Gedi Gruppo Editoriale SPA & Anor [2020] EWHC 3034 (QB) engages (and refers to) the issues I previously reported on in inter alia Bolagsupplysningen, Saïd v L’Express,

It is worthwhile to list both claimants and defendants.

On the claimants side, Napag Trading Limited (“the First Claimant”) is an English-domiciled company. Napag Italia Srl (“the Third Claimant”) is an Italian-domiciled subsidiary of the First Claimant. Sgr Francesco Mazzagatti (“the Second Claimant”), an Italian national with his main residence in Dubai, is the CEO and sole director of, and 95% shareholder in, the First Claimant. The First Claimant trades, and the Third Claimant has traded, in petroleum-based products.

On the defendants side, Gedi Gruppo Editoriale S.p.A. (“the First Defendant”) is the publisher amongst other things of L’Espresso which is a weekly Italian-language political and cultural magazine available both in print and online in England and Wales. Società Editoriale Il Fatto S.p.A. (“the Second Defendant”) is the publisher of Il Fatto Quotidiano (“Il Fatto”), a daily Italian-language newspaper published in England and Wales only on the internet.

An earlier Brexit-anticipatory forum non conveniens challenge was waived away by Jay J at 7: ‘Only the Second Defendant saw fit to raise a forum non conveniens challenge in advance of 1st January 2021 and the relevant EU regulation no longer applying. I would have been very reluctant to rule on this sort of application on an anticipatory basis.’

Identifying a centre of interest in England and Wales, leading to full jurisdiction there for damages, per CJEU e-Date and Bolagsupplysningen and also a precondition to apply for injunctive relief (see also Bolagsupplysningen: only courts with full jurisdiction may issue such relief) is of course a factual assessment.

The Second Claimant is an entrepreneur, born in Calabria but now living in Dubai. He founded the Third Claimant in 2012. Initially, it traded in oil and petroleum products from offices in Rome. The Third Claimant dealt in particular with the Italian oil company Eni S.p.A. (“Eni”), headquartered in Rome and in part state-owned, and Eni Trading & Shipping S.p.A. (“Ets”) which is based in Rome and has a branch in London. Second Claimant incorporated the First Claimant in April 2018. His evidence is that London was a better base from which to conduct and grow his business because he was encountering resistance from some banks and financial institutions who were diffident about working with an Italian company. More specifically, the strategy was to hive off the Third Claimant’s oil and gas business into the First Claimant, and the former would devote itself to trading in petrochemicals. Additionally, the idea was to invest in an “upstream” development in the UK Continental shelf, and the first discussions about this were in November 2018.

Justice Jay revisits the CJEU’s instructions re centre of interests for natural persons per e-Date. At 29:

First, other things being equal, and certainly in the absence of evidence to the contrary, a natural person’s “centre of interests” will match his or her habitual residence. Whether or not this may accurately be described as an evidential presumption does not I think matter (in my view, no legal presumption is generated); in any case, the CJEU – subject to my second point – is not purporting to assist national courts as to the rules of law that should govern the exercise of ascertainment. Secondly, general considerations of predictability and the need for clarity militate in favour of straightforward and readily accessible criteria rather than any microscopic examination of the detail.

At 32 follows an interesting discussion of para 43 of the CJEU Bolagsupplysningen judgment

“43. It is also appropriate to point out that, in circumstances where it is not clear from the evidence that the court must consider at the stage when it assesses whether it has jurisdiction that the economic activity of the relevant legal person is carried out mainly in a certain member state, so that the centre of interests of the legal person which is claiming to be the victim of an infringement of its personality rights cannot be identified, that person cannot benefit from the right to sue the alleged perpetrator of the infringement pursuant to article 7(2) of Regulation No 1215/2012 for the entirety of the compensation on the basis of the place where the damage occurred.”

After a reference to what Justice Jay calls Bobek AG’s ‘masterly opinion’, in particular the burden of proof issues are discussed which Jay J justifiably holds are not within the scope of Brussels Ia (not at least in the sense of deciding the procedural moment at which proof must be furnished). I agree with his finding that the CJEU’s meaning of para 43 is simply that

in the event that the national court concluded that it could not identify the “centre of interests” because the evidence was unclear, article 7(2) of the RBR could not avail the claimant.

Conclusion of the factual consideration follows (probably obiter: see 150) at 161: first Claimant has the better of the argument that its “centre of interests” is in England and Wales.

Jay J then discusses at 35 ff that whether there actually is damage within E&W as a matter of domestic law to decide to good arguable case standard, that the case may go ahead. That discussion shows that  the actual concept of ‘damage’ within the meaning of Brussels Ia and indeed Rome II is not quite so established as might be hoped, and it is held at 141 that no serious damage has occurred within E&W for there to be jurisdiction.

The case is a good illustration of the hurdle which national rules of civil procedure continue to form despite jurisdictional harmonisation under EU private international law rules.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2.

Third ed. forthcoming February 2021.

 

Gtflix Tv. The French Supreme Court queries the CJEU on further specification of Bolagsupplysningen and jurisdiction for libel over the internet.

Update 22 September 2020 the Case is known at the CJEU as C-251/20.

Thank you Helene Peroz for flagging the French Supreme Court on 13 May last referring to the CJEU for clarification of the Bolagsupplysningen case-law. The case concerns Gtflix Tv which I understand is a Czech adult entertainment corporation, who is suing Mr X, himself a producer of porn and domiciled at Hungary, arguing Mr X has defamed them in public comments.

Gtflix claim both retraction and correction of the comments, and symbolic damages. X argues the French courts do not have jurisdiction and the Court of Appeal at Lyons agreed. It held that Gtflix cannot suffice with a simple show of accessibility of the comments in France: for it to establish jurisdiction, Gtflix was required to show real damage to its reputation in France.

The Supreme Court first of all held that Bolagsupplysningen is good authority for acts of unfair competition between competitors – a finding which was not as such made in Manitou v JCB and on which the court does not refer to the CJEU. The applicable law issues which I discussed earlier in the week, were not subject of the Cour de Cassation’s assessment.

The court then does refer to the CJEU to ask whether Bolagsupplysningen means that a claimant who requests both rectification /retraction and damages, has to necessarily turn to courts with full jurisdiction or whether they can continue to turn for the damages part, to all courts with locus damni jurisdiction.

The specific question referred, is

Les dispositions de l’article 7, point 2, du règlement (UE) n° 1215/2012 doivent-elles être interprétées en ce sens que la personne qui, estimant qu’une atteinte a été portée à ses droits par la diffusion de propos dénigrants sur internet, agit tout à la fois aux fins de rectification des données et de suppression des contenus, ainsi qu’en réparation des préjudices moral et économique en résultant, peut réclamer, devant les juridictions de chaque État membre sur le territoire duquel un contenu mis en ligne est ou a été accessible, l’indemnisation du dommage causé sur le territoire de cet État membre, conformément à l’arrêt eDate Advertising (points 51 et 52) ou si, en application de l’arrêt Svensk Handel (point 48), elle doit porter cette demande indemnitaire devant la juridiction compétente pour ordonner la rectification des données et la suppression des commentaires dénigrants ?” ;

Geert.

(Handbook of) European private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2

 

BVC v EWF. The High Court on personality rights, internet and centre of interests in echoes of Bolagsupplysningen and e-Date. Suggests court with full jurisdiction is required for orders restraining further publication.

In BVC v EWF [2019] EWHC 2506 (QB) claimant applied for summary judgment in a claim for misuse of private information and harassment. The privacy claim arises from internet publication, on a website created by the defendant, of his account of his relationship with claimant. The harassment claim arises from a series of email communications from the defendant to claimant over a period of some two years, and from publication of the website itself.

An ex parte injunction had been granted earlier. The Defendant was restrained from contacting or harassing claimant, from publishing the website or any of its contents to the world at large, and from publishing any of the information set out in a confidential schedule, or any information which was liable to or might identify the claimant as a party to the proceedings or as the subject of the confidential information

In current proceedings defendant (a UK national) submits he is domiciled in Switserland. This triggers the Lugano Convention.

Parkes J clearly had to consider Article 5(3) Lugano’s special jurisdictional rule for tort (the BIa equivalent of course is now Article 7(2), hence also applying e-Date and BolagsupplysningenSteyn DJ had earlier rejected defendant’s arguments. At 33: ‘She held, in short, that the Claimant had a good arguable case that this jurisdiction was the state in which he had the centre of his interests, and that in any event a real and substantial tort (namely misuse of private information) had been committed within the jurisdiction. She also ordered that the steps already taken to bring the Claim Form and orders of 27 June and 4 July 2018 to the Defendant’s attention (namely, service by email) constituted good service on him, notwithstanding that he claimed he was domiciled in Switzerland at the date of receipt of the documents, not (as had been believed) in this jurisdiction.’

Defendant (praised nb by Parkes J for his ‘brief but enlightening written submissions’) however continues to challenge the jurisdiction, jumping at the chance to bring it up again when claimant referred to his centre of interests in his PoC (Particulars of Claim), and employing the distinction which the CPR makes between challenges to existence and exercise of jurisdiction (notwithstanding authority (see at 39) that despite the distinction claims viz the two need to be brought concurrently).

He essentially (at 43) posits the court reconsider

‘whether Article 7(2) RJR is ‘to be interpreted as meaning that a natural person who alleges that his personality rights have been infringed by the publication of information concerning him on the internet may have his centre of interests in a Member of State where he is not habitually resident, where he has no ongoing professional connections or employment, no home, no income and no immediate family’. In his letter to the court of 18 June 2019, the Defendant puts it this way: ‘… with no permission to appeal the judgment of Karen Steyn QC, if the court continues to accept the Claimant’s centre of interests is in England and Wales despite very clear evidence to the contrary then it is necessary to refer the question of interpretation to the ECJ pursuant to Article 267 of the TFEU’.

At 44 Parkes J dismisses the suggestion of preliminary review to Luxembourg. That route is ‘not designed to provide a route of appeal against judicial evaluation of evidence of fact.’ In conclusion, re-opening of the discussion on jurisdiction is rejected, referring finally to Lord Green in Kaefer:”it would not be right to adjourn the jurisdiction dispute to the full trial on the merits since this would defeat the purpose of jurisdiction being determined early and definitively to create legal certainty and to avoid the risk that the parties devote time and cost to preparing and fighting the merits only to be told that the court lacked jurisdiction“.

Arguments on submission to the jurisdiction where not entertained: whether service of a defence, and the making of an application to strike out qualify as ‘submission’ becomes otiose when that jurisdiction has already been unsuccessfully challenged.

Then follows extensive discussion of the factual substance of the matter, which is less relevant for the purposes of this blog. Hence fast forward to 150 ff where the issue of jurisdiction to issue an injunction prohibiting re-publication of the material is discussed (in case: re-offering of the website on WordPress or elsewhere). At 158 ff this leads to a re-discussion of Bolagsupplysningen where the Court held that where a claimant seeks an injunction to rectify or remove damaging material from the internet, he can only do so only in a State with full jurisdiction. Parkes J at 160 suggests this is only in the state where the defendant is domiciled (the general rule, as stated by Art 2(1) Lugano and Art 4(1) RJR), or (by virtue of the special jurisdiction: Art 5(3) Lugano and Art 7(2) RJR) in the state where he has his centre of interests, and not before the courts of each member state in which the information is accessible.

I believe Parkes J on that point omits locus delicti commissi. At the time of my review of Bolagsupplysningen I suggested the judgment was bound to create a need for further clarification: Shevill and e-Date confirm full jurisdiction for the courts of the domicile of the defendant, and of the locus delicti commissi, and of the centre of interests of the complainant. These evidently do not necessarily coincide. With more than one court having such full jurisdiction positive conflicts might arise.

Of more importance here is that Parkes J (obiter) at 163 suggests that the requirement of full jurisdiction, also applies to orders restraining any further publication and not just as the Grand Chamber held limited by the facts in Bolagsupplysningen, to orders for rectification and removal. In doing so he follows the in my view correct suggestion made by Dr Tobias Lutzi (‘Shevill is dead, long live Shevill!’, L.Q.R. 2018, 134 (Apr), 208-213) viz divisible cq indivisible remedies – update 28 September 2019 although the issue is not free of discussion. Graham Smith for instance suggests the potential for geo-blocking as a valid argument to grant jurisdiction for restraining further publication on an Article 7(2) locus damni basis.

Note also the cross-reference to Saïd v L’Express on the limitation of Bolagsupplysningen to injunctive relief: for damages, the full mosaic implications remain.

Conclusion: Claimant is entitled to summary judgment for a final injunction to restrain further misuse of his private information

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2.

 

Saïd v L’Express. The High Court finds no Bolagsupplysningen injunctive jurisdiction (upholds damages jurisdiction).

In Saïd v L’Express [2018] EWHC 3593 (QB), held at the end of December, 1st Defendant is the publisher of the French language magazine L’Express. 2nd Defendant is described as the ‘directeur de la publiction, directeur de la redaction’ of the magazine and is said to have editorial responsibility for it. The claim was originally one in data protection under the GDPR and one in libel – currently only the libel claim has been continued. A pitty: for the GDPR issue see my prediction here.

214 copies of the magazine are sold to subscribers in the UK. There were 252 website visits to the article from within the UK. All the ingredients therefore of a classic C-68/93 Shevill action. Nicol J of course runs (with great clarity) through Shevill, eDate Advertising GmbH v X; Martinez v MGN Ltd Joined Cases C-509/09 and C-161/10) and Bolagsupplysningen. At 23 he holds correctly that the e-Date route of full jurisdiction for the claimant’s centre of interests applies only to internet publications (‘I detect no suggestion that, in respect of print copies, a claimant has the option of suing for compensation for all of the loss in the member state where he has his centre of interests’).

At 31 he summarises his key takeaways from Bolagsupplysningen.:

i) So far as internet publications are concerned, a claimant who is seeking relief such as an injunction may do so only (a) in a Member State where the defendant is domiciled (so that the Courts of that Member State have jurisdiction under Article 4(1)); or (b) in the Member State where Claimant has his centre of interests.

ii) Although by the time of the reference the Supreme Court of Estonia was concerned only with the corporate claimant, there is nothing in the judgment to suggest that the outcome in relation to the third question would have been different in relation to the individual claimant.

iii) The Court was concerned exclusively with publications on the internet. So far as remedies for print publications are concerned, a claimant’s options as set out in Shevill remain the same.

iv) Likewise, the Court was concerned exclusively with remedies for the rectification or removal of information from the internet. So far as other remedies, such as damages are concerned (even damages for internet publications) the Court appears to have made no change to the previous position. The Court’s judgment appears to be in contrast with the opinion of the Advocate-General (Bobek) whose preferred course was to restrict a claimant complaining of an internet publication, to those fora which had full power to deal with all copies of the publication so that the mosaic option would not be available in such cases (see [97] of his opinion) whatever remedies were being sought. ….’

He is absolutely right re Bobek’s Opinion as I discuss here.

Then follows the factual discussion (suggestions for centre of interest in England are at 47 and at 56) leading to a finding at 61 of there not being centre of interest in England which could displace the Bolagsupplysningen presumption of habitual residence (here: Monaco) being that centre. The preceding paras include important discussion on the amendment of claims and the need to identify the jurisdictional gateway (Mosaic and /or Bolagsupplysningen) in the claims form.

Finding therefore is at 73-74 that ‘Claimant has not shown a good arguable case that his centre of interests is in England and Wales. As is agreed, the Defendants are not domiciled in the jurisdiction. Accordingly and in accordance with Bolagsupplysningen, this court does not have jurisdiction to grant an injunction to restrain publication of the article on the internet. To that extent, the Defendants’ application succeeds. Otherwise, the Claimant has shown a good arguable case for the cause of action and other relief which he seeks. The remainder of the Defendants’ application is therefore refused.’ (Meaning that the application for summary dismissal on that point fails and the case must proceed on the damages issue, in mosaic fashion).

A first thorough application of Bolagsupplysningen I believe.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2.