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 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.

NN v Barrick Tz Limited (Acacia) in the English courts. Another CSR /jurisdictional marker with likely role for Articles 33-34 Brussels Ia.

I have for the moment little to go on in a new claim, launched in the English courts, in the Corporate Social Responsibility /mass torts category. The claim was apparently filed against Barrick Tz Limited, formerly Acacia Mining, domiciled in the UK, alleging human rights abuses by security forces at the company’s North Mara mine.

Of jurisdictional note undoubtedly will be the application of Articles 33-34 Brussels Ia: forum non conveniens – light, and a likely application for summary judgment by defendant. There is as far as I know no mother holding issue involved, unlike in Vedanta or Bento Rodriguez /Samarco.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 8, Heading 8.3.

 

Modern Families. UK Supreme Court confirms CSR jurisdiction against mother and daughter in Lungowe v Vedanta and Konkola – yet with one or two important caveats.

Update 26 May 2020 for an application of the Vedanta summary of the rules to be followed when deciding service out of jurisdiction see Marsh CM in Satfinance Investment Ltd v Inigo Philbrick & Ors [2020] EWHC 1261 (Ch), concerning a valuable painting entitled ‘Humidity’ by the New York artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. (Note at 9 the ‘art and the law’ issue of the lex situs: ‘The principal pointer to a legal system other than England is that the Painting was in New York at the time the agreement was made and the lex situs would naturally govern the transfer of title and the manner in which the title was held.’). Do bear in mind that the judgment, setting aside an earlier order giving permission to serve out of jurisdiction, only concerns a defendant resident in New York. Against the English-domiciled anchor defendant, no such permission is needed.

Update 10 June 2019 for an update of Canadian case-law developments see here.

Update 30 April 2019 I cannot possibly keep up with all emerging scholarship on the issue yet this review by Penelope Bergkamp most complete and worthwhile.

Update 17 April 2019 Opinio Juris have relevant review here.

Update 16 April 2019 Nick Lees and Tim Pickworth have similar caution for overenthusiastic reaction to the UKSC judgment here.

The SC this morning held in [2019] UKSC 20 Vedanta and Konkola v Lungowe, confirming jurisdiction in England for a human rights /environmental claim against a Zambia-based defendant, Konkola Copper Mines or ‘KCM’, anchored unto an EU-based defendant, Vedanta resources, the ultimate parent company of KCM. Both High Court and Court of Appeal had upheld such jurisdiction (the links lead to my blog post on both).

Of note are:

1. First of all

Lord Briggs’ emphatic rebuke of parties (and courts, one assumes) having disproportionately engaged with the issue of jurisdiction. With reference to ia VTB Capital he underlines that jurisdictional dispute should be settled in summary judgment alone, and should not lead to a mini trial. Reference is made to the size of the bundles etc. A bit of an unfair comment perhaps given that clearly there was a need for SC intervention. At any rate, one imagines that current judgment settles a number of issues and that in future litigation therefore these at least will have to be met with less arguments; lest, as his lordship notes at 14, the Supreme Court’ will find itself in the unenviable position of beating its head against a brick wall.’

2. As noted by Coulson J at 57 in the High Court judgment, neither Vedanta nor KCM pursue an Article 34 Brussels Ia argument of lis alibi pendens with proceedings in Zambia. As I signalled in my succinct review of recent study for the EP yesterday, the A34 defence is likely to be important in future litigation.

3. Applicants’ arguments that pursuing the case against them is an abuse of EU law, were advanced and equally rejected at both the High Court and the Court of Appeal stage. They are pursued again with the SC (at the latter’s express instruction).

  • At 29 Lord Briggs agrees with the HC and the CA and decides that the point that there has been no such abuse of EU law, is acte clair – no reference to the CJEU therefore.
  • At 31 ff he discusses the limited authority (all of it discussed at the HC and the CA) on abuse of Brussels I (a), particularly abuse of the anchor defendant mechanism of (now) Article 8(1), including of course CDC and at 37 raises the interesting issue of remedy: if abuse is found, is it to be disciplined under a European remedy or rather using the common law instrument of forum non conveniens?
  • And at 39: appellants argue that in CSR cases like these, Owusu has the almost inevitable effect that, providing a minimum level of triable issue can be identified against an English incorporated parent, then litigation about environmental harm all around the world can be carried on in England, wherever the immediate cause of the damage arises from the operations of one of that group’s overseas subsidiaries. With the case against the England-based defendant going ahead at any rate, per Owusu, the risk or irreconcilable judgments should jurisdiction against the subsidiaries be vacated, simply becomes to great. Not so hands tied behind the back, appellants argue, but forum non paralysis.
  • At 40 Lord Briggs suggests an adjustment of the English forum non conveniens doctrine for cases like these: namely to instruct claimants of the need to avoid irreconcilable judgments, where the anchor defendant is prepared to submit to the jurisdiction of the domicile of the foreign defendant in a case where, as here, the foreign jurisdiction would plainly be the proper place, leaving aside the risk of irreconcilable judgments

 

4. Despite Owusu, the English courts are still within their rights to reject the case in summary judgment if there is no ‘real issue’ to be tried against the anchor defendant. Here, discussion turned at 42 ff as to whether one should merely apply Chandler v Cape [2012] EWCA Civ 525, or whether this case involves the assertion of a new category of common law negligence liability.

  • This was rejected, like it was by Sales LJ in AAA v Unilever plc [2018] EWCA Civ 1532, which I review here.
  • Lord Briggs 54 concludes that viz the common law of liability there is neither anything special nor conclusive about the parent /subsidiary relationship, and
  • at 53 flags what instantly has become a favourite among commentators on the case: ‘Even where group-wide policies do not of themselves give rise to such a duty of care to third parties, they may do so if the parent does not merely proclaim them, but takes active steps, by training, supervision and enforcement, to see that they are implemented by relevant subsidiaries. Similarly, it seems to me that the parent may incur the relevant responsibility to third parties if, in published materials, it holds itself out as exercising that degree of supervision and control of its subsidiaries, even if it does not in fact do so. In such circumstances its very omission may constitute the abdication of a responsibility which it has publicly undertaken.’

4bis This part of course inevitably may give parent companies a means to prevent such liability (do not proclaim group-wide policies, let alone train or enforce them – as Gabrielle Holly also immediately noted here). However a variety of mechanisms may prevent this becoming a cheap trick to avoid liability: such compliance programs are often required under competition law, financial law etc., too; are relevant for directors’ liability; and of course may already (such as in the French devoir de vigilance) or in future (as mooted ia by the EC and the EP) be statutorily prescribed.

At 60: in the case at issue, the SC finds that the High Court with sufficient care examined and upheld the essence of the claimants’ case against Vedanta, that it exercised a sufficiently high level of supervision and control of the activities at the Mine, with sufficient knowledge of the propensity of those activities to cause toxic escapes into surrounding watercourses, as to incur a duty of care to the claimants. At 61 Lord Briggs adds obiter that not all the material (particularly services agreements) would have persuaded him as much as they did the HC or the CA, however at 62 he emphasis again that the HC and CA’s judgment on same was not vitiated by any error of law.

5. At 66 ff then follows the final issue to be determined: forum non conveniens and the further advancement of the issue already signalled above: it troubles Lord Briggs at 75 that the trial judges did not focus upon the fact that, in this case, the anchor defendant, Vedanta, had by the time of the hearing offered to submit to the jurisdiction of the Zambian courts, so that the whole case could be tried there. (An argument which was considered by Leggatt J in VTB).

  • Evidently the A4 BruIa case would have had to continue per Owusu, yet the reason why the parallel pursuit of a claim in England against Vedanta and in Zambia against KCM would give rise to a risk of irreconcilable judgments is because the claimants have chosen to exercise that right to continue against Vedanta in England, rather than because Zambia is not an available forum for the pursuit of the claim against both defendants: claimant-inflicted forum non.
  • Why, at 75 in fine, (it may be asked) should the risk of irreconcilable judgments be a decisive factor in the identification of the proper place, when it is a factor which the claimants, having a choice, have brought upon themselves?
  • Lord Briggs’ argument here is complex and I need to cross-refer more to the various authorities cited however the conclusion seems to be that Lord Briggs rejects the argument of Leggatt J in VTB and he finds that ! provided the ex-EU forum is a suitable forum, under English private international law claimants do have to make a choice: either only sue the A4 defendant in the EU but not the ex-EU subsidiaries; or sue all in the forum where they may all be sued (if there is such a forum), here by virtue of submission to the non-EU forum. The alternative would allow claimant to profit from self-inflicted risks of irreconcilable judgments.
  • In the end the rule is of no impact in the case for Zambia was found not to be an appropriate forum, for reasons of ‘substantial justice’: among others because of the absence of Conditional Fee Agreements, and given the unavoidable scale and complexity of this case (wherever litigated), the trial judge was right that it could not be undertaken at all with the limited funding and legal resources which the evidence led him to conclude were available within Zambia.

 

6. By way of my conclusion so far: (update 11 April 2019: in the meantime echoed by Robert McCorquodale’s analysis here; and here; he was counsel for interveners in the case hence was able to refer to insight gained from having seen parties’ submissions)

The group policy direction, enforcement, compliance and communication of same -issue is an important take away from this case. Particularly as it may be expected that holding companies will not find it that straightforward simply to do away with such policies. Of great impact too will be the choice now put upon claimants in the forum non conveniens issue: suing nondom companies by virtue of anchoring unto the A4 mother company in England at least will be less straightforward (many usual suspects among the competing jurisdictions do have CFAs, allow for third party funding  etc.). Yet the two in my view dovetail: the reason for bringing in the ex-EU subsidiaries often is because the substantial case against them tends to serve the case against the mother. With a tighter common law neglicence liability the need to serve the daughter may be less urgent.

Geert.

European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 8, Headings 8.3.1.1., 8.3.2

Bento Rodrigues (Samarco dam victims) v BHP Billiton in the English courts. A new CSR marker.

Update 18 September 2020 today’s ruling [2020] EWHC 2471 (TCC) concerns a procedural issue only about one narrow issue on the facts – connected with the strike out part of the  application rather than the Article 34 part.

Update 21 April 2020. Being instructed by claimants in the case, I cannot comment much on one of the first formal Orders in the case (now known as Municipio de Mariana and ors v BHP Group), [2020] EWHC 928 (TCC). Eyre J’s Order identifies 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. Eyre J granted defendants’ application for extension of time, albeit not to an autumn slot as requested but rather 21 July (moved from 8 June).

Justice Eyre refers to already existing Covid19 protocol precedent, on the need and reasons for postponing hearings. He has more sympathy for delay by teleworking than expressed by Alexander DJ in Heineken Supply Chain v Anheuser-Busch Inbev [2020] EWHC 892 (Pat) (who referred to the greater discomfort of other professions than the legal one), listing more au fait reasons for postponing at 32. An extension of 6 weeks was ordered.

 

The media have been reporting on a considerable class action lawsuit, underway in the English courts, in the Corporate Social Responsibility /mass torts category.

The class action case was filed against Anglo-Australian company BHP Billiton on behalf of 240,000 individuals, 24 municipal governments, 11,000 businesses, a Catholic archdiocese and about 200 members of the Krenak indigenous community. It concerns victims of the Samarco dam collapse in Mariana three years ago.

I am reporting the case simply to ensure complete overview of the CSR /jurisdiction /applicable law issues reported on the blog. For as I am co-counsel acting for the claimants, I am not in a position to comment on the case until and if legal analysis will be in the public domain.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 8, Heading 8.3.

Unilever. Court of Appeal summarily dismisses CSR jurisdiction against mother company, confirming High Court’s approach. Lex causae for proximity again left undiscussed.

Update 25 July 2019 Leave to appeal to the Supreme Court has been refused (unlike Okpabi, where it has been allowed yesterday).

Update 21 September 2018 further litigation on similar issues is underway in Gemfield [AAA and others v Gemfields Plc and Montepuez Ruby Mining Limitada]. See overview of issues hereUpdate 7 October 2020 the claim was settled in January 2019.

The Court of Appeal in [2018] EWCA Civ 1532 has confirmed the High Court’s approach in [2017] EWHC 371 (QB) AAA et al v Unilever and Unilever Tea Kenya ltd, holding that there is no good arguable case (the civil law notion of fumus boni iuris comes closes, as Bobek AG notes in Feniks) against Unilever, which could then be used to anchor the case in the English jurisdiction.

Pro memoria: jurisdiction against Unilever is clear, following Article 4 Brussels I Recast. That Regulation’s anchor mechanism however is not engaged for Article 7(1) does not apply against non-EU based defendants. It is residual English private international law that governs this issue.

Appellants appeal in relation to the High Court’s ruling that neither Unilever nor UTKL (the Kenyan subsidiary) owed the appellants a duty of care. Unilever has put in a respondent’s notice to argue that the judge should have found that there was no duty of care owed by Unilever on the additional ground that, contrary to her view, there was no proximity between Unilever and the appellants in respect of the damage suffered by them, according to the guidance in Chandler v Cape Plc. Unilever and UTKL also sought to challenge that part of the judgment in which the judge held that, if viable claims in tort existed against Unilever (as anchor defendant) and UTKL, England is the appropriate place for trial of those claims. Unilever also cross-appealed in relation to a previous case management decision by the judge, by which she declined an application by Unilever that the claim against it should be stayed on case management grounds, until after a trial had taken place in Kenya of the appellants claims against UTKL.

The legal analysis by Sales LJ takes a mere five paragraphs (para 35 onwards). Most of the judgment is taken up by an (equally succinct) overview of risk management policies within the group.

At 35 Sales LJ notes ‘Having set out the relevant factual background in relation to the proximity issue (i.e. whether the appellants have any properly arguable case against Unilever in the light of Chandler v Cape Plc and related authorities), the legal analysis can proceed much more shortly. It is common ground that principles of English law govern this part of the case.

– the ‘common ground’ presumably being lex loci incorporationis.

This is an interesting part of the judgment for I find it by no means certain that English law should govern this part of the case. In one of my chapters for professor Vinuales’ en Dr Lees’ forthcoming OUP book on comparative environmental law, I expand on that point.

The long and the short of the argument is that Unilever did not intervene in the affairs of its subsidiary in a more intensive way than a third party would have done. Reference at 37 is made to the contrasting examples given by Sir Geoffrey Vos in Okpabi, ‘One can imagine … circumstances where the necessary proximity could be established, even absent the kind of specific facts that existed in Vedanta … Such a case might include the situation, for example, where a parent required its subsidiaries or franchisees to manufacture or fabricate a product in a particular way, and actively enforced that requirement, which turned out to be harmful to health. One might suggest a food product that injured many, but was created according to a prescriptive recipe provided by the parent. …’

and, at 38, to the raison d’être of mother /daughter structures,

“… it would be surprising if a parent company were to go to the trouble of establishing a network of overseas subsidiaries with their own management structures it if intended itself to assume responsibility for the operations of each of those subsidiaries. The corporate structure itself tends to militate against the requisite proximity …

– subject evidently to proof of the opposite in the facts at issue (a test seemingly not met here).

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 8, Heading 8.3.

Court of Appeal confirms jurisdiction in Lungowe v Vedanta and Konkola.

Update 15 January 2019 see intervening party submission by CORE et al here. The case is being heard this week and will one assumes be relevant for other cases en route, including Samarco.

Update 16 May 2018 Vedanta have been given permission to appeal to the Supreme Court.

I reviewed the High Court’s decision in Lungowe here. In [2017] EWCA Civ 1528 the Court of Appeal has now confirmed jurisdiction against the non-UK based defendants on largely the same, if slightly more structured and expanded arguments as the High Court.  (Per Owusu, jurisdiction against the UK-based defendant is undeniable; the non-UK defendants need to be joined on the basis of residual English conflicts law).

Ekaterina Aristova has analysis of Simon LJ’s leading judgment here – I am happy to refer. Of particular note is the much more reserved approach of the Court of Appeal on the merits issue of the claim. As I noted in my review of Okpabi v Shell at the High Court, in that case Fraser J looked in serious detail into the issue of merits: not, I believe, justified at the jurisdictional stage. Appeal against Fraser J’s finding will be heard by the Court of Appeal.

Geert.

European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 8, Headings 8.3.1.1., 8.3.2

Unilever. Accepting CSR jurisdiction against mother companies not the High Court’s cup of tea.

Postscript 13 June 2017 for a similar scenario in the Italian courts (hearings pending) see here: Ikebiri v ENI.

After  Shell/Okpabi, the High Court has now for the second time in 2017 rejected jurisdiction to be established against the foreign subsidiary (here: in Kenya) using the mother company as an anchor. In [2017] EWHC 371 (QB) AAA et al v Unilever and Unilever Tea Kenya ltd, Unilever is the ultimate holding company and registered in the UK. Its subsidiary is a company registered in Kenya. It operates a tea plantation there. Plaintiffs were employed, or lived there, and were the victims of ethnic violence carried out by armed criminals on the Plantation after the Presidential election in Kenya in 2007. They claim that the risk of such violence was foreseeable by both defendants, that these owed a duty of care to protect them from the risks of such violence, and that they had breached that duty.

Laing J unusually first of (at 63 ff) all declines to reject the case on ‘case management’ grounds. Unlike many of her colleagues she is more inclined to see such stay as ignoring ‘through the back door’ Owusu‘s rejection of forum non conveniens.  I believe she is right. Instead the High Court threw out the case on the basis that the claims, prima facie (on deciding jurisdiction, the Court does not review the substantial merits of the case; a thin line to cross) had no merit. Three issues had to be decided:

i) By reference to what law should the claim be decided? This was agreed as being Kenyan law.

ii) Are the criteria in Caparo v Dickman [1990] 2 AC 605 satisfied? (A leading English law case on the test for the duty of care). The relevance of English law on this issues comes about as a result of Kenyan law following the same Caparo test: as I have noted elsewhere, it is not without discussion that lex fori should apply to this test of attributability. Laing J held that the Caparo criteria were not fulfilled. The events were not as such foreseeable (in particular: a general breakdown in law and order). Importantly, with respect to the holding company and as helpfully summarised by Herbert Smith:

  • the pleaded duty effectively required the holding to ensure that the claimants did not suffer the damage that they suffered, and not merely to take reasonable steps to ensure their safety;
  • the pleaded duty also effectively imposed liability on that holding for the criminal acts of third parties, and required it to act as a “surrogate police force to maintain law and order”; and
  • such a duty would be wider than the duty imposed on the daughter, as the actual occupier of the Plantation, under the Kenyan Occupiers’ Liability Act

At 103, Laing J discussed and dismissed plaintiff’s attempts at distinguishing Okpabi. In her view, like in Shell /Okpabi, the mother’s control is formal control exercised at a high level of abstraction, and over the content and auditing of general policies and procedures. Not  the sort of control and superior knowledge which would meet the Chandler test.

iii) Are the claims barred by limitation? This became somewhat irrelevant but the High Court ruled they were not. (This, under the common law of conflicts, was a matter of lex causae: Kenyan law, and requiring Kenyan expert input. Not English law, as the lex fori).

The case, like Okpabi, is subject to appeal however it is clear that the English courts are not willing to pick up the baton of court of prefered resort for CSR type cases against mother companies.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 8, Heading 8.3.

Lungowe v Vedanta and Konkola. One lb of Owusu and one lb of Chandler v Cape make for a powerful potion.

Here’s the recipe for [2016] EWHC 975 (TCC) Lungowe v Vedanta at the High Court.

Obtain one lb of C-291/02 Owusu: European authority: forum non conveniens has no place in the Brussels jurisdictional regime; particularly now in Article 4 of the Brussels I Recast for as Coulson J points out at 57 in his judgment in Lungowe, Articles 33-34 of the Recast Regulation do foresee consideration in the event of parallel proceedings outside of the EU.

Mix with one lb of Chandler v Cape : English authority: parent companies may in circumstances be held liable for the actions of their foreign subsidiaries; referred to with approval by the Dutch Courts in Shell.

Have Zambian claimants in a case of environmental pollution employ Article 4 to establish jurisdiction against a holding company established in England. The company is a holding company for a diverse group of base metal and mining companies, including the second defendant, Konkola.

The fact that Vedanta are domiciled in the United Kingdom is, evidently, one of the principal reasons why they have been pursued in these proceedings (see Coulson J’s acknowledgment of same at 76). This is a manifestation of forum shopping which the CJEU has certainly encouraged. Moreover, as Coulson J suggests at 77-78, claimants also wish to pursue Vedanta because they are seen as the real architects of the environmental pollution in this part of Zambia. The argument is that, since it is Vedanta who are making millions of pounds out of the mine, it is Vedanta who should be called to account. On balance, the use of Vedanta as an anchor defendant can hardly be seen as a malicious ‘device’ or an abuse of the anchor defendant mechanism.

On that issue of abuse, reference is made by the High Court to Freeport and to CDC at the CJEU. There is no suggestion of course that either are direct precedent for the anchor defendant mechanism in residual national private international law. (Which is the case here: for the Brussels Recast joinder mechanism in Article 7 most certainly does not apply to defendants domiciled outside of the EU). It is telling therefore that the Court does refer to them here. (And inevitably raises the question whether English Court will continue to do so after Brexit).

Both 20 Essex Street and RPC have further discussion. All in all an uplifting day in the English Courts for corporate social responsibility campaigners.

European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 8, Headings 8.3.1.1., 8.3.2

Dutch Shell Nigeria / Royal Dutch Shell ruling: anchor jurisdiction confirmed against Nigerian daughter.

Update 21 March a mirror case is going ahead in the High Court in London: jurisdiction against the mother company again is easily established because of Shell’s incorporation in the UK (its corporate headquarters are in The Netherlands (which is also where it has its tax residence). The High Court has allowed proceedings against Shell Nigeria to be joined. Shell is expected to argue forum non conveniens at a later stage.

Postscript 1 March 2016 in Xstrata Limited /Glencore Xstrata plc ., similar issues of corporate social responsibility and liability for a subsidiary’s actions are at stake.

As I have reported in December, the Gerechtshof Den Haag confirmed jurisdiction against Shell’s Nigerian daughter company in Eric Barizaa Dooh and Vereniging Milieudefensie v Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd. (Please note the link first has the NL version of the judgment, followed by an EN translation). The proceedings can be joined with the suit against the mother company Royal Dutch Shell (RDS, headquartered in The Netherlands whence easily sued on the basis of Article 4 Brussels I Recast (Article 2 of the Regulation applicable to the proceedings)). I have finally gotten round to properly reading the court’s judgment (which deals with jurisdiction issues only). As I have pointed out, Article 6(1) (now 8(1) of the Brussels I Recast) cannot be used against defendants not domiciled in the EU. Dutch rules on joinders applied therefore. The Gerechtshof however took CJEU precedent into account, on the basis that the preparatory works of the relevant Dutch rules on civil procedure reveal that they were meant to be so applied. Consequently a lot of CJEU precedent is reviewed (the most recent case quoted is CDC). The Gerechtshof eventually holds that lest it were prima facie established that liability of RDS for the actions committed by its Nigerian daughter is clearly unfounded, use of RDS as an anchor can go ahead. Only clearly abusive attempts at joinders can be sanctioned. (A sentiment most recently echoed by the CJEU in Sovag).

The Gerechtshof Den Haag, without being definitive on the issue, also suggested that applicable law for considering whether merger operations inserting a new mother company were abusive (merely carried out to make Royal Dutch Shell escape its liability), had to be addressed using ‘among others’ the lex incorporationis (at 3.2). That is not undisputed. There are other candidates for this assessment.

The judgment being limited to jurisdiction, this case is far from over.

Geert.

European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 8, Headings 8.3.1.1., 8.3.2

Royal Dutch Shell. Watch those stockings. Nigeria / RDS judgment on appeal expected end December.

Postscript 1 March 2016 in Xstrata Limited /Glencore Xstrata plc ., similar issues of corporate social responsibility and liability for a subsidiary’s actions are at stake.

Postscript 18 December: quick update, more to follow: in an interim judgment, jurisdiction was upheld.

I have earlier referred to Shell’s arguments in appeal (in Dutch) on the specific issue of jurisdiction, which may be found here .  Judgment in first instance in fact, as I reported, generally was quite comforting for Shell (and other holding companies in similar situations) on the issue of substantive liability.

However on jurisdiction, the Dutch court’s approach of joinders under residual national jurisdictional rules, was less comforting. The rules on joinders, otherwise known as ‘anchor defendants’, in the Brussels regime (Brussels I as well as the Recast) do not apply to defendants domiciled outside of the EU. Consequently national rules of civil procedure decide whether an action against a daughter company, established outside of the EU, can be successfully anchored to an action against the mother company (against which jurisdiction is easily established per Article 4 of the Recast, Article 2 of the former Regulation). In first instance, the Court at The Hague ruled in favour of joining a non-EU defendant to a case against its mother company in The Netherlands.

In its submission for appeal, Shell (with reference to relevant national case-law) borrows heavily from CJEU case-law on what was Article 6(1) (now Article 8(1)), suggesting that Dutch residual law was meant to apply as a mirror the European regime, with one important difference: precisely the issue that under the Dutch regime, none of the parties need to be domiciled in The Netherlands. Any jurisdictional rule which leads the Dutch courts to accept jurisdiction against one defendant, even if that anchor defendant is not domiciled in the country, can lead to others being drawn into the procedure. This means, so Shell suggests, that the Dutch rule (Article 7(1) of the Dutch code of civil procedure) is more in need of precautions against abuse, than the equivalent European rule.

As part of the efforts to avoid abuse, the Dutch courts need to make a prima facie assessment of the claims against the anchor defendant: for if those claims are spurious, anchoring other claims to such loose ground would be abusive. On this point, the Court of Appeal will have to discuss the corporate veil, piercing it, Chandler v Cape etc. Shell’s submission does not in fact argue why piercing needs to be assessed by the lex causae (here: Nigerian law as the lex loci damni) and not, for instance, by the lex fori. I doubt the Court of appeal will raise it of its own accord. (See here for a consideration of the issues in an unrelated area and further pondering here).

A little bird tells me that appeal judgment will be issued on 18 December. I may or may not be able to review that before the Christmas break. In the negative, it will have to be an Epiphany posting. (Potentially in more than one meaning of the word).

Geert.