Posts Tagged Brussels Ia

Bonnie Lackey v Mallorca Mega Resorts. High Court throws a wide net for jurisdictional privileges of consumers.

I have waited a little while to discuss (I had tweeted it earlier)  [2019] EWHC 1028 (QB) Bonnie Lackey v Mallorca Mega Resorts. It is a good case for an exam essay question and that is what I used it for this morning (albeit in simplified form, focusing on the consumer title).

Defendant is domiciled in Spain, and is hereafter referred to as ‘the Hotel’. Claimant was one of a group of friends who went on holiday to Magaluf in Mallorca, Spain. The booking was made in May 2017 by Ms Donna Bond, who was one of the party and a friend of Bonnie Lackey. The Agency’s Booking Conditions stated

‘references to “you” and “your” include the first named person on the booking and all persons on whose behalf a booking is made …’.

Section A, applicable to all bookings stated:

“By making a booking, you agree on behalf of all persons detailed on the booking that you have read these terms and conditions and agree to be bound by them”.

In my exam question I have left the agency out of the factual matrix. Its presence is immaterial for the case for the agency acts, well, as an agent: contract is between clients and the hotel direct.

The group were staying at the site owned and operated by the Hotel. It is agreed between parties that the Agency’s and Hotel’s marketing meets with the Pammer Alpenhof criteria, in other words that they direct their activity at England. Claimant, Ms Lackey, who is domiciled in England, was seriously injured in the ‘wave’ pool and is now tetraplegic. Damages application is for £9 million given the high cost of care for the now 41 year old claimant.

A first discussion concerned the insurance section (not part of the exam essay)(15 ff). Generali (of Spain) were the hotel’s insurers and had already accepted jurisdiction for the English courts. Their liability though was capped at an absolute max of 0.45 Million Euros – far off the claim. Claimant’s hope was that Article 13(3) Brussels Ia as Clyde point out, might be used for a claim anchored unto Generali. Here, the High Court followed the authority of Hoteles Pinero Canarias SL v Keefe [2015] EWCA Civ 598, see references to EU law there. That case went up to the Supreme Court and thence to the CJEU where it was taken off the roll following settlement. In any event, following Keefe, Davison M in Bonnie Lackey held that jurisdiction was conferred on the English courts by Articles 11 and 13 BIa, (contained in Section 3) which permit a claim here against the insurer and the joinder of the hotel to that claim. Master Davison rejected suggestions for the need of a CJEU reference among others because he also upheld jurisdiction under the consumer titleThe essential question here was whether there is a need for complete identity between the consumer referred to in Article 17(1) and the consumer referred to in Article 18(1) BIa.

Davison M suggests there need not, referring in particular to the Regulation’s aims to protect the weaker party, and to rule out as much as possible the risk of irreconcilable judgments.

Defendant’s reference to Schrems was considered immaterial. At 39: ‘Plainly, the consumer bringing the claim must be a beneficiary of the consumer contract or at least within its ambit. That does not mean that she personally must have concluded it. To borrow again from the judgment of Gloster LJ in Keefe, there would be no linguistic or purposive justification for such a restrictive interpretation.’ I am not sure I agree, not at any rate without proper discussion of ‘within its ambit’. The CJEU’s case-law on the protected categories does evidently aim to protect weaker categories and interpretation of same must serve that purpose. However the CJEU at the same time also emphasises the fact that these sections are an exception to the general rule and therefore must not be applied too widely, either.

Master Davison cuts short too extensive a discussion of the ‘ambit’ issue, by referring to the General Terms and Conditions – GTCS: the consumer who booked, accepted these GTCS ‘on behalf of all persons detailed in the booking’. At 40: ‘The hotel deployed no evidence of any kind to displace the effect of these terms, (which, I would add, are standard terms to be expected in a contract of this kind). A person who contracts through an agent has still “concluded” a contact. Thus, all argument about the need for complete identity between the consumer referred to in Article 17.1 and the consumer referred to in Article 18.1 is redundant. In each case it was the claimant, Ms Lackey.’ Whether counsel should have made more noise about this issue I do not know, however I would have expected discussion here of the general respect the Regulation has for privity of contract (which I discuss repeatedly on the blog).

I do not think this case will settle the matter. Its outcome evidently is positive (particularly considering that for Ms Lackey it will really not be straightforward to attend trial in Spain). However its legal reasoning cuts a few corners.

I would expect my students to discuss the need for effective protection of consumers ‘v’ the exceptional character of the section; and privity of contract which the CJEU flags on several occasions. Each with proper case-law references.

Geert.

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Bobek AG in Salvoni v Fiermonte. Brussels Ia’s Article 53 certificate and consumer protection.

Bobek AG Opined early May (excuse posting delay) in Case C-347/18 Salvoni v Fiermonte. The referring court enquires whether the court of origin tasked with issuing the Article 53 Certificate (issued with a view to enabling swift recognition and enforcement) may, of its own motion, seek to ascertain whether the judgment whose enforcement is sought was issued in breach of the rules on jurisdiction over consumer contracts, so that it may, where appropriate, inform the consumer of any such breach and enable her to consider the possibility of opposing enforcement of the judgment in the Member State addressed.

A related issue therefore to the CJEU judgment in Weil last week.

Mr Alessandro Salvoni, a lawyer based in Milan, asked the Tribunale di Milano (District Court, Milan) to issue Ms Anna Maria Fiermonte (who resides in Hamburg) with a payment order for an amount owed to him as consideration for the professional services rendered by him in connection with legal proceedings concerning a will. Payment order was granted, no challenge was made by Ms Fiermonte (at 24 the AG emphasises that evidently, the court needs to check whether proper service was made). Mr Salvoni then requested the same court to issue the Article 53 Certificate with respect to that order. However this time the same court (with the AG at 22 one can assume that composition was different) proprio motu (and belatedly: see at 15) classified the relationship as B2C under the relevant provisions of Brussels Ia. Ms Fiermonte should have been sued in Hamburg.

Bobek AG courteously calls the court’s initiative ingenious and well-intended (at 29) but has no choice but to conclude that the Regulation simply has no tool for the Court somehow to mitigate let alone correct its earlier mistake. In a gesture effectively of public service (at 34; this rescues something useful from the otherwise fairly futile exercise; I doubt the CJEU will do something similar), the AG then rephrases the question into a more general one, which is detached from the specific course of action apparently contemplated by the national court: Is a national court, when issuing the Article 53 Certificate, entitled (or even obliged), under EU law, to ascertain whether the judicial decision that is to be certified was issued in breach of the rules on jurisdiction over consumer contracts?

At 44 ff the AG delightfully side-steps the chicken and hen issue of the C-54/96 Dorsch criteria (is an A53 court a ‘court’ entitled to preliminary review under Article 267 TFEU) and eventually concludes that there is no room for the A53 Court to assess the application of the consumer title. At 54: ‘

The interpretation of [A53] proposed by the referring court cannot easily be reconciled with the above considerations [speed; simplicity: GAVC]. In particular, that interpretation would in effect back-pedal on one of the main features of the new system introduced by Regulation No 1215/2012. Indeed, the checks that were previously made in the Member State addressed when issuing the exequatur would not be eliminated, but merely shifted to the certification stage carried out in the Member State of origin. That reading of the provision would thus run against the logic and spirit of Regulation No 1215/2012.’

At 81 and 82 the likely outcome of course is pointed at by the AG: Article 45(1)(e)(i) and Article 46 BIa grant consumers a special ground of refusal of recognition and enforcement in cases where the judgment in question conflicts with the jurisdictional rules for the protected categories. This ground has now been handed Ms Fiermonte on a plate – leaving the Milan courts with red cheeks.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.8.2, Heading 2.2.16.

 

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The CJEU in Weil: assessment of the scope of application of Brussels Ia at the A53 certificate stage; and a narrow reading of the matrimonial exception.

The CJEU this morning held (without AG Opinion) in C-361/18 Ágnes Weil v Géza Gulácsi.

Overall context is that Brussels Ia does not apply to ‘the status or legal capacity of natural persons, rights in property arising out of a matrimonial relationship, wills and succession’.

Ms Weil and Mr Gulácsi were unregistered partners. Mr Gulácsi was ordered by Hungarian court order to pay Ms Weil approximately EUR 2 060, together with interest for late payment, by virtue of the settlement of rights in property arising out of their de facto (unregistered) non-martial partnership. Ms Weil later applied to the same court to have it issue the Article 53 certificate which would facilitate her enforcement in the UK (where Mr Gulácsi lives and has a regular income). Questions raised, were

‘(1)      Is Article 53 of Regulation … No 1215/2012 to be interpreted as meaning that, if requested by one of the parties, the court of the Member State that delivered the decision must issue the certificate relating to the decision automatically, without examining if [the case] falls within the scope of Regulation … No 1215/2012?

(2)      If the answer to the first question is in the negative, is Article 1(2)(a) of Regulation … No 1215/2012 to be interpreted as meaning that a repayment action between members of an unregistered non-marital [de facto] partnership falls within the scope of the rights in property arising out of a relationship deemed … to have comparable (legal) effects to marriage?’

The  Court answers the first question in the negative: at the recognition and enforcement stage, things must go very swift indeed. The mutual trust required of courts must be backed up by proper consideration of the Regulation by the courts of the Member State of initial adjudication: at 33:

‘the need to ensure the swift enforcement of judgments, while preserving the legal certainty on which the mutual trust in the administration of justice in the European Union is based, justifies, in particular in a situation such as that of the main proceedings — where the court which gave the judgment to be enforced did not adjudicate, when giving that judgment, on whether [Brussels I and Ia] was applicable — that the court hearing the application for the certificate ascertains, at that stage, whether the dispute falls within that regulation.’

It adds at 35 that

the enforcement procedure, under Regulation No 44/2001, precludes, like enforcement under Regulation No 1215/2012, any subsequent review on the part of a court of the Member State addressed of whether the action giving rise to the judgment for which enforcement is sought falls within the scope of Regulation No 44/2001, the grounds for challenging the declaration that a judgment is enforceable being exhaustively laid down by that regulation.

This I find interesting for unless I missed it, there has not yet been a CJEU decision holding this much and as I discuss on pp 191-192 of the Handbook, there is scholarly discussion on same.

With respect to the matrimonial property exception, the CJEU after of course emphasising the need for a restrictive interpretation of the exceptions, acknowledges that Brussels Ia has extended this but only to relationships deemed comparable to marriage (at 44). Unregistered partnerships do not qualify.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.1.2, Heading 2.2.16.1.2 .

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BNP Paribas: Apparently competing jurisdiction clauses under Article 25 Brussels I Recast /Brussels Ia Regulation. Take-away: keep your contractual house in order.

[2019] EWCA Civ 768 BNP Paribas v Trattamento Rifiuti Metropolitani Spa engages the issue of apparently competing jurisdiction clauses under Article 25 Brussels Ia. The appeal against Knowles J’s findings at the High Court was dismissed.

The issue raised on the appeal is whether the judge was correct to conclude that the claims for declaratory relief sought in the Claim fall within an English jurisdiction clause  (EJC) contained in a swap transaction between the parties and not within an Italian jurisdiction clause (IJC) contained in a financing agreement (an ISDA Master Agreement) between them – further facts are best read in the judgment.

At 44 ff Hamblen LJ first considers two preliminary issues: (i) the relevance of Italian law and (ii) the relevant “dispute” or “disputes”. On (i), expert Italian opinion was considered however rejected essentially as being overkill: Where the applicable law of the contract is foreign law, questions of interpretation are governed by the applicable law. In such a case the role of the expert is not to give evidence as to what the contract means. The role is “to prove the rules of construction of the foreign law, and it is then for the court to interpret the contract in accordance with those rules” (authority cited: Lord Collins in Vizcaya Partners Ltd v Picord [2016] UKPC 5) and ‘The task of the English court is merely to inform itself of any relevant different principles of construction there might be in the foreign law and, armed with such information, look at both jurisdiction clauses and decide whether the English claim falls within the English clause. That should be a comparatively straightforward exercise.” (Longmore LJ in Savona). At 54: ‘The primary rule is Article 1362 of the Italian Civil Code, under which the literal meaning of the words must be considered. It is only if that meaning is not clear that one goes on to consider later Articles, although they may be used as a cross check.’ ‘[A]lthough the Italian jurisdiction clause was governed by Italian law, the judge was entitled to approach the task of interpreting the EJC and the IJC by reference to English law relating to the interpretation of such provisions, concentrating on the meaning of the words used in their relevant context’: at 55.

On the ‘relevant dispute’, at 56: ‘The interpretation of the scope of a jurisdiction clause falls to be considered at the time that jurisdiction agreement is made, at which time there will be no “dispute” unless, which is not this case, it is an ad hoc agreement relating to existing disputes.’ At 59: ‘Where proceedings are commenced in this country in reliance on an English jurisdiction clause and a jurisdictional challenge is raised, the issue of whether the clause may be so relied upon is to be answered by reference to the claim in relation to which those proceedings have been issued.’ At 61: ‘The answer to this question cannot change by reason of subsequent events, such as a defence raised or a subsequent set of proceedings, like the Italian Claim.’ (Follows reference to CJEU C-214/89 Powell Duffryn Plc v M Petereit).

Applied to the case at issue and having established that English law (of contractual interpretation and the ordinary meaning of the words) applies, Hamblen LJ summarises authority as follows (at 68; authority omitted)):

(1) Where the parties’ overall contractual arrangements contain two competing jurisdiction clauses, the starting point is that a jurisdiction clause in one contract was probably not intended to capture disputes more naturally seen as arising under a related contract.

(2) A broad, purposive and commercially-minded approach is to be followed.

(3) Where the jurisdiction clauses are part of a series of agreements they should be interpreted in the light of the transaction as a whole, taking into account the overall scheme of the agreements and reading sentences and phrases in the context of that overall scheme.

(4) It is recognised that sensible business people are unlikely to intend that similar claims should be the subject of inconsistent jurisdiction clauses.

(5) The starting presumption will therefore be that competing jurisdiction clauses are to be interpreted on the basis that each deals exclusively with its own subject matter and they are not overlapping, provided the language and surrounding circumstances so allow.

(6) The language and surrounding circumstances may, however, make it clear that a dispute falls within the ambit of both clauses. In that event the result may be that either clause can apply rather than one clause to the exclusion of the other.

At 69 ff this leads in casu to a finding of fairly clear distinct application in light of the clear contractual set-up between parties. At 77 this is supplemented by a straightforward finding of which relationship is relevant for which choice of court clause. Like the High Court, the Court of Appeal concluded that the two jurisdiction clauses governed different relationships and did not materially overlap.

At 112 Longmore LJ adds that the Court’s interpretation ‘accords with the objects of the Regulation of: (i) allowing the claimant easily to identify the court before which he may bring an action and the defendant reasonably to foresee the court before which he may be sued; and (ii) enabling the court seised to be able readily to decide whether it has jurisdiction, without having to consider the substance of the case.’

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.9, Heading 2.2.9.

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Airbus v Generali et al: The Court of Appeal on the intensity of review of choice of court under Article 25. Clear echoes of Turner v Grovit and West Tankers.

(Apologies for the odd formatting in this post: I tried to debug this but failed. I am not wasting too much time trying, for I assume most of you do not visit the blog to enjoy its design qualities).
In [2019] EWCA Civ 805 Airbus v Generali et al CJEU authority in West Tankers clearly echoes. I had hoped to review the case much sooner after my Tweet reporting it a few days after the judgment came out. That delay does have the advantage that Clyde & Co in the meantime have analysis to which I am happy to refer.

The claimant in this action and the respondent to the appeal, Airbus, claims declarations (1) that it is not liable to the defendant insurers for losses incurred in relation to an incident which occurred on 29 September 2013 in which an aircraft which it had manufactured sustained damage when landing in Rome and (2) that proceedings commenced against it by the defendants in Italy have been commenced contrary to the terms of an English exclusive jurisdiction clause. The clause in question is contained in an Airframe Warranties Agreement dated 8 July 2010 (“the Warranties Agreement”) concluded between (among others) Airbus and the defendants’ insured, the Italian airline company Alitalia. The issue on this appeal is whether the English court has jurisdiction over these claims by virtue of the jurisdiction clause. Moulder J held that it does and the defendant insurers (henceforth “the appellants”) now appeal.

Appellants contend, in outline, that the jurisdiction clause is of limited scope and does not extend to Airbus’s claims in this action, that the claim for a negative declaration falls within an arbitration clause in a different agreement, a Purchase Agreement dated 31 October 2005 which provides for ICC arbitration in Geneva, and that their own proceedings in Italy under articles of the Italian Civil Code are not within the scope of either clause. They say in addition that they cannot be in breach of an exclusive jurisdiction clause to which, as insurers, they were never parties and that, regardless of the true construction of the clause, there is no basis on which the English court can make a declaration against them (essentially, per Turner v Grovit and West Tankers).

Males LJ at 49: The standard of proof to be applied in determining whether the English court has jurisdiction under Article 25 of the Brussels Recast Regulation is that of a good arguable case. Kaifer Aislimentos was discussed as relevant authority. However, at 52: ‘sometimes it will be sensible, when a question of law arises on an application to challenge jurisdiction, for the court to decide it rather than merely deciding whether it is sufficiently arguable.’  Discussion of the contractual construction of the choice of court clause then follows at 62 ff and concludes in favour of a wide application in casu.

At 77 ff: The question whether the appellants’ claim in Italy falls within the scope of the English jurisdiction clause. Males LJ notes correctly that this depends on the nature of the claim brought in Italy, not on the defences which may be or have in fact been raised by Alitalia. At 82 he fairly swiftly concludes that even though the Italian claim is for breach of non-contractual obligations under articles of the Italian Civil Code, it is sufficiently connected to the Warranties Agreement to be within the scope of the exclusive jurisdiction clause. At 83 therefore: the commencement and pursuit of the Italian proceedings was contrary to the terms of that clause and that the English court has jurisdiction to determine that claim.

That then brings us to the discussion of what the English courts might potentially do to assist the party relying on the choice of court clause – given the unavailability of anti-suit per West Tankers. Noteworthy is that the new lis alibi pendens rule protecting choice of court following Brussels Ia, seemingly was not deployed or discussed in the Italian proceedings – at any rate there is no reference to any such discussion in the Court of Appeal judgment (other than perhaps at 84 which seems to suggest that amendment of claims brought the issue to the surface and this may not yet have been the case at the time of the discussion of the Italian proceedings).

A statement by the English courts finding infringement of the clause, would not just have an impact on cost rulings but would also ground a delictual claim. At 97 Males LJ settles the discussion whether such a declaration might be possible: ‘I can see no valid basis on which West Tankers can be distinguished. If it is held that commencement of the Italian proceedings by Alitalia would have been a breach of the jurisdiction clause in the Warranties Agreement, it follows that their commencement by the appellant insurers is a breach of an equivalent obligation in equity which Airbus is entitled to enforce and that the English court has jurisdiction to grant a declaration to say so.’

Interesting and highly relevant authority.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Heading 2.2.2.10.2.,  Heading 2.2.9, Heading 2.2.9.4.`

 

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Judgment in Kerr v Postnov(a): a surprisingly swift conclusion on Article 24 and ‘services’ in Brussels Ia /Rome I.

My review of Kokott AG’s Opinion C-25/18 Brian Andrew Kerr v Pavlo Postnov and Natalia Postnova (Kerr v Postnov(a)) discussed, as did the AG, the application of Brussels I Recast’s Articles 24(1) and (2) exclusive jurisdictional rules, cq the application of Article 7(1) jurisdictional rules on contracts, and applicable law consequences of same. The Court ruled on 8 May.

Coming to the first issue: Article 24(1)  – this is not properly answered by the Court.

I signalled the potential for engineering even in Article 24 cases: particularly here, the prospect of adding an enforcement claim to an otherwise contractual action. At 37-38 the Court deals most succinctly with this issue: ‘in so far as the action which gave rise to the dispute in the main proceedings does not fall within the scope of any of those actions, but is based on the rights of the association of property owners to payment of contributions relating to the maintenance of the communal areas of a building, that action must not be regarded as relating to a contract for a right in rem in immovable property, within the meaning of Article 4(1)(c) of Regulation No 593/2008.’: ‘in so far as’ – ‘dans la mesure où’: the Court would seem to dodge the issues here which the AG did discuss, in particular vis-a-vis the enforcement accessory: that discussion I feel is not over.

Note also the straight parallel which the Court makes between lex contractus under Rome I and Article 24. 

The discussion of Article 24(2) does lead to a clear conclusion: the forum societatis is not engaged, neither therefore is the lex societatis exception in Rome I. The Court follows the AG here, with specific reference to the Lagarde report (at 33-34).

As for Article 7(1) forum contractus: at 27 usual authority going back to Handte assists the Court in its conclusion that ‘even if membership of an association of property owners is prescribed by law, the fact remains that the detailed arrangements for management of the communal areas of the building concerned are, as the case may be, governed by contract and the association is joined through voluntary acquisition of an apartment together with ownership shares of the communal areas of the property, so that an obligation of the co-owners towards the association of owners, such as that at issue in the main proceedings, must be regarded as a legal obligation freely consented to’ (at 27). At 28: ‘the fact that that obligation results exclusively from that act of purchase or derives from that act in conjunction with a decision adopted by the general assembly of the association of the owners of property in that building has no effect on the application of Article 7(1)(a)’.

At 39-40 the Court then swiftly comes to the conclusion of ‘services’ under Article 4(1)(c) Rome I, without much ado at all. The AG had opined that the non-uniform nature of the contributions leads to non-application of the service rule of Article 7(1)b and therefore a resurrection of the classic Tessili formula: the CJEU itself went for the acte clair route.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.6, 2.2.11.1

 

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Kiobel v Shell in The Netherlands. Court confirms jurisdiction anchored unto mother holding and qualifies the suit as one in human rights: not tort. Also orders limited use of documents obtained in US discovery and limited continuation of the trial.

In January 2017 I reported that Ms Kiobel, following failure to convince the USSC of jurisdiction under the Alien Tort Statute, subsequently initiated proceedings in the Dutch courts to try and sue Shell over the case. (Evidently unrelated to the pursuit of Shell in The Netherlands on environmental grounds – a case which is still pending upon appeal).

The court in first instance at the Hague on 1 May accepted jurisdiction against

  • both the mother holding. That was not at all under discussion: this is done via Article 4 Brussels Ia’s domicile rule. Use of Article 33 /34’s forum non conveniens-light mechanism was not suggested;
  • two English-incorporated Shell daughters using Article 8(1) of the Brussels I a Regulation; and
  • the Nigerian daughter company. Against the Nigerian daughter company, jurisdiction needs to be anchored unto the Dutch mother holding using Article 7 of the Dutch CPR, which is a near carbon copy of Article 8(1) Brussels Ia, whose CJEU authority is followed by Dutch courts in the interpretation of the Dutch residual rule.

Coming so soon after the UKSC in Vedanta the Dutch case has received quite a bit of attention. After first not considering an English translation (not surprisingly; these are the Dutch courts, not a World Service), the clerks have now announced that there will be one, coming up some time soon.

Readers of the blog will expect me to hold the judgment against a clear jurisdictional and conflict of laws lens – in doing so, I fear I have to be a little bit less optimistic than media soundbites following the case.

Jurisdictional issues were in the end dealt with fairly summarily. Most attention went to issues of evidence and discovery, as well as a first review of the substance of the case.

Of note is:

  • At 4.3: acceptance by all parties of of Nigerian law as the lex causae; if need be, choice of law by all parties for Nigerian law as the lex causae. Rome II is not applicable ratione temporis. The case has this in common with the Milieudefensie case against Shell. This being a civil law jurisdiction, ius novit curia applies. The court has taken into account parties’ submissions on Nigerian law yet has also conducted its own research. Foreign law is ‘law’ in the civil law; not ‘fact’ as in the common law.
  • Claimants suggest that in the events in Ogoniland Shell acted as one organisation and treated the issue as one engaging the Shell concern as a whole (4.7 in fine);
  • Claimants purposedly do not wish their claim to be qualified as one engaging piercing of the corporate veil; duty of care; shareholders responsibility; or tort of negligence. Rather, as one engaging the Shell concern directly in a suit on infringement of human rights included in the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) and the Nigerian constitution. Tort is only suggested as an alternative should the court not follow the arguments on the basis of human rights (4.8).
  • At 4.12 the Court accepts the horizontal direct effect of human rights under Nigerian law, referring for that finding to Nigerian case-law. At 4.19 the Court notes the absence of statutes of limitation for human rights violations under Nigerian law: thus qualifying this as an issue of substance (lex causae), not procedure (lex fori). It revisits the statute of limitation issue at 4.47 ff (holding that under Nigerian law the suits can still be brought).
  • At 4.26 the court applies A8(1) BIa and A7 Dutch CPR in globo, given the same lines of interpretation, and finds succinctly that all conditions (Kalfelis; Roche Nederland; The Tatry) are met. It remarks at 4.26 in fine that given the same situation of law and fact, it was predictable for all parties that they might end up being sued in any of their corporate siblings’ domicile.
  • At 4.27 the court discussed summary dismissal. As seen in Vedanta, despite Owusu European courts are within their rights to reject the case in summary judgment if there is no ‘real issue’ to be tried against the anchor defendant. However this only applies against non-EU based defendants. Application of Article 8(1) does not allow such summary dismissal for EU-based defendants (see also C-103/05 Reisch Montage). The Hague court reviews summary dismissal only vis-a-vis the Nigerian defendant but finds succinctly that the suit is not prima facie without merit. There is a serious issue to be tried.
  • At 4.28 interestingly the Court rejects relevance of the High Court and the Court of Appeal‘s dismissal of jurisdiction in Okpabi, arguing that these courts employed ‘English law’. This underscores the argument I have made elsewhere, that there is a serious blank in the discussion on lex causae for the duty of care or, depending on the case, the piercing issue. The Dutch court here notes without hesitation that the English courts apply lex fori to that test, and so therefore, I am assuming, should they (meaning Dutch law in their case)?
  • At 4.29 it looks as if the Court considers some kind of reflexive argument which defendants seem to have made. Namely that the Dutch courts should respect the exclusive jurisdictional head under the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) – FREP Rules, for the Federal High Court in cases involving alleged infringement of human rights. However the Dutch court considers this a mere internal jurisdictional distribution rule, which does not hinder the Dutch courts in their assessment of the claims. There is no written or unwritten rule in Dutch private international law which suggests such deference to a Nigerian civil procedure rule.

Importantly, a great deal of attention at 4.30 ff  goes to the debate on the use of documents obtained in US discovery, in the Dutch proceedings. A fair amount of these had to be returned following a confidentiality agreement in the US proceedings. Claimants make recourse to Article 6 ECHR to regain access for use in the Dutch proceedings however the Dutch court curtails much of that. Common law discovery rules are notoriously more claimant friendly than those of the civil law (a comment also made by Marsh CM in Glaxo v Sandoz). It leads to Shell not having to turn over quite a large part of the documents claimants had hoped to use. [Note 18 May 2019 in my original post of 17 May I had ‘common’ law and ‘civil law’ accidentally mixed up in the previous sentence].

At 4.58 ff the Court then turns to the substance of the case for case management reasons, with a view to determining which parts of the claim may be made subject to further proof. It holds in a way which I imagine must have been very disappointing for claimants. Only limited claims (of the Nigerian daughter’s involvement in the bribing of witnesses) will be allowed to continue.

The court held that claims of controlling meddling in the Nigerian court proceedings were not proven with sufficient force for these claims to continue – instead it held that Shell’s policy of silent diplomacy, in line with its business policies, had been consistently carried out.

All in all I would suggest claimants have scored clear points on jurisdiction, minor points on discovery and a disappointing outcome for them on substance. Albeit that the witness bribe leg may still lead to a finding of human rights infringement.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 8, Headings 8.3.1.1., 8.3.2.

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