Posts Tagged Corporate social responsibility
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.
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  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 concreto. He 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.
(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 8, Heading 8.3.
A4 BIa jurisdiction upheld. No stay on A34 grounds. https://t.co/wIifRnsWZq
— Geert Van Calster (@GAVClaw) March 3, 2020
A34, Article 33, Article 34, article 7, Bonga oil field, Brussels Ia, Chandler v Cape, Corporate social responsibility, CSR, due diligence, Duty of care, environmental damage, FNC, Forum non conveniens, Highly relevant new CSR, https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/TCC/2020/459.html, Jalla, Jalla v Shell, Shell, Shell Nigeria, Stasco,  EWHC 459 (TCC)
I have reported earlier on the issues which yesterday led to the decision of the Canadian Supreme Court 2020 SCC 5 Nevsun Resources Ltd. v. Araya, in which the Supreme Court was asked whether there should be a new tort of breach of international law, and whether the “act of state” doctrine prevents adjudication in the case at issue. The case does not have jurisdictional issues to consider so I shall leave the substantive public international law analysis (not my core area) to others: Dr Ekaterina Aristova’s Twitter feed referenced below should give readers plenty of pointers, as does (which came out just as I was finalising this post) Stephen Pitel’s analysis here.
The case does raise the kinds of questions upon which the US Supreme Court (Kiobel; Jesner) refused to be drawn, particularly issues of corporate culpability under public international law. Again, this is not my area of core expertise and my thoughts here are merely that.
Three Eritrean workers claim that they were indefinitely conscripted through Eritrea’s military service into a forced labour regime where they were required to work at a mine in Eritrea. They claim they were subjected to violent, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The mine is owned by a Canadian company, Nevsun Resources Ltd. The Eritrean workers started proceedings in British Columbia against Nevsun and sought damages for breaches of customary international law prohibitions against forced labour, slavery, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and crimes against humanity. They also sought damages for breaches of domestic torts including conversion, battery, unlawful confinement, conspiracy and negligence.
Nevsun brought a motion to strike the pleadings on the basis of the ‘act of state’ doctrine, which precludes domestic courts from assessing the sovereign acts of a foreign government. Nevsun also took the position that the claims based on customary international law should be struck because they have no reasonable prospect of success.
The act of state doctrine is “a rule of domestic law which holds the national court incompetent to adjudicate upon the lawfulness of the sovereign acts of a foreign state” (R. v. Bow Street Metropolitan Stipendiary Magistrate, Ex parte Pinochet Ugarte (No. 3),  1 A.C. 147 (H.L.), at p. 269) (Lord Millett). The doctrine exists in Australian and English common law (with plenty of discussion) but is not part of Canadian common law. At 30 Abella J for the majority explains the connections and differences with the doctrine of state immunity. [The doctrine was also at stake in  EWHC 822 (Comm) Reliance v India on which I reported earlier].
The motion was dismissed by the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court in majority has now agreed, arguing (ia at 44-45)
The act of state doctrine and its underlying principles as developed in Canadian jurisprudence are not a bar to the Eritrean workers’ claims. The act of state doctrine has played no role in Canadian law and is not part of Canadian common law. Whereas English jurisprudence has reaffirmed and reconstructed the act of state doctrine, Canadian law has developed its own approach to addressing the twin principles underlying the doctrine: conflict of laws and judicial restraint. Both principles have developed separately in Canadian jurisprudence rather than as elements of an all‑encompassing act of state doctrine. As such, in Canada, the principles underlying the act of state doctrine have been completely subsumed within this jurisprudence. Canadian courts determine questions dealing with the enforcement of foreign laws according to ordinary private international law principles which generally call for deference, but allow for judicial discretion to decline to enforce foreign laws where such laws are contrary to public policy, including respect for public international law.
Nor has Nevsun satisfied the test for striking the pleadings dealing with customary international law. Namely it has not established that it is “plain and obvious” that the customary international law claims have no reasonable likelihood of success.
Of note is at 50 the insistence with reference to authority that ‘deference accorded by comity to foreign legal systems “ends where clear violations of international law and fundamental human rights begin” ‘, and the majority’s opinion’s references to the stale nature of the established concept that public international law exists for and between States only.
Clearly the case is not home and dry for the lower courts will now have to address the substantive issues and may still hold for Nevsun. Moreover claimant’s case is based on parts of international law traditionally considered ius cogens – of less use in other corporate social responsibility cases involving environmental issues or more ‘modern’ social rights other than the hard core ius cogens category. Hence in my initial view the precedent value of the case may not be as wide as one might hope. However the clear rejection of the act of state attempt is significant.
Of interest finally is also the judgment at 75 and at 109 citing Philippe Sands’ (KU Leuven doctor honoris causa) formidable East West Street in support.
(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 8, Heading 8.3.
WOW! Supreme Court of Canada released decision in Nevsun case, the case will move forward, victory for claimants! Majority opinion: it is arguable that the breaches of customary international law, or jus cogens, relied on by the victims may apply to corporations https://t.co/L527vA7tEq
— Ekaterina Aristova (@EkatAristova) February 28, 2020
2020 SCC 5, Act of State, Alien Tort Statute, Canada, Corporate social responsibility, CSR, Duty of care, foreign soverreign immunity, High Court, https://decisions.scc-csc.ca/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/18169/index.do, https://www.scc-csc.ca/case-dossier/cb/2020/37919-eng.aspx, Jesner Bank, Kiobel, Nevsun, Nevsun Resources Ltd. v. Araya, Nevsun Resources Ltd. v. Gize Yebeyo Araya, piercing the veil, Shell, Supreme Court, Unilever
The judgment (in first instance; expect appeal) dismissing jurisdiction in Ismail Ziada v Benjamin Gantz is out in Dutch here and in English here. Gilles Cuniberti has reviewed the immunity issues here. I shall focus on the consideration of forum necessitatis, and can so do very briefly for the court does, too.
In essence the judgment on this point means that civil procedure rules on forum necessitatis do not set aside sovereign immunity based on public international law, and that the ECtHR judgment in Naït-Liman does not alter that finding. In that case, the ECtHR nudged States to consider a forum necessitatis rule:
‘“Nonetheless, given the dynamic nature of this area, the Court does not rule out the possibility of developments in the future. Accordingly, and although it concludes that there has been no violation of Article 6 § 1 in the present case, the Court invites the States Parties to the Convention to take account in their legal orders of any developments facilitating effective implementation of the right to compensation for acts of torture, while assessing carefully any claim of this nature so as to identify, where appropriate, the elements which would oblige their courts to assume jurisdiction to examine it.”
In Ismail Ziada v Benjamin Gantz the Court simply remarked that ECtHR authority on the issue all concerns immunity of international organisations not, as here, State sovereign immunity, in which consequently (in the court’s view) forum necessitatis does not have a role to play.
Article 6, Ben Gantz, Benjamin Gantz, Corporate social responsibility, CSR, ECHR, forum necessitatis, Gaza, https://uitspraken.rechtspraak.nl/inziendocument?id=ECLI:NL:RBDHA:2020:559, Israel, Naït-Liman, Netherlands, Sovereign immunity, universal jurisdiction
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.
(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 8, Heading 8.3.
Claim was issued against Barrick Tz Limited, formerly known as Acacia Mining.
— Geert Van Calster (@GAVClaw) February 10, 2020
Acacia, Acacia Mining, Article 33, Article 34, article 7, Barrick, Barrick Tz Limited, Brussels Ia, Chandler v Cape, Corporate social responsibility, CSR, due diligence, Duty of care, environmental damage, FNC, Forum non conveniens, North Mara, Tanzania
News broke a few weeks back on the class action suit introduced in the USDC for the District of Columbia, against Apple, Dell, Microsoft and Tesla. Swiss-based Glencore (of Mark Rich fame) and Belgium’s Umicore are mentioned in the suit but not added to the defendants. Historical references are inevitably made to the plundering of Congo first by King Leopold personally and in a later stage by the Kingdom of Belgium.
The suit is a strategic one, attempting to highlight the human rights (including child labour) issues involved in the mining of cobalt, used as a raw material in particular for modern batteries, and to propel the corporate social responsibility (CSR) debate on due diligence and supply-chain liability. It is also however a suit seeking damages for the victims of child labour in very dangerous circumstances.
Of note for the blog is the jurisdictional angle: discussed at 18 ff and featuring arguments against the use of forum non conveniens. Claimants put forward they have no practical ability to litigate in DRC: damages under DRC law (therefore assumed to be the lex causae which a Congolese judge would apply were the case litigated in DRC) sought from end-users of cobalt; DRC courts are corrupt; anyone standing in the way of the mining industry is threatened; the 2000 Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act TVPRA as amended in 2013 allows for extraterritorial jurisdiction; finally and of relevance to a classic locus delicti commissi argument: ‘the policymaking that facilitated the harms Plaintiffs suffered was the product of decisions made in the United States by Defendants’.
Personal jurisdiction is suggested to exist for (at 22) are all U.S. resident companies and they do substantial and continuous business within the District of Columbia – minimum contacts are established, and defendants should reasonably anticipate being hailed into court there.
No doubt there will be intense discussion on the jurisdictional basis, prior to debate on the merits of liability of end-users.
Cobalt, Corporate social responsibility, CSR, Dell, due diligence, Extraterritoriality, FNC, forum non, Forum non conveniens, Google, https://regmedia.co.uk/2019/12/16/cobalt_lawsuit.pdf, Jurisdiction, Locus delicti commissi, Microsoft, strategic litigation, supply chain, Tesla, TVPRA
Suing the Chief of the Israeli General Staff in The Netherlands. Ismail Ziada v Benjamin Gantz tests Dutch forum necessitatis rules.
Since the news broke in Mid-September of a Dutch claimant of Palestinian descent, suing former Chief of the General Staff Benjamin Gantz in The Netherlands, I have regularly checked ECLI NL for any kind of judgment. So far to no avail. I report the case now summarily, for it will be good to have a judgment (presumably first interlocutory: on the jurisdiction issue) to chew on.
The claim invokes the Dutch forum necessitatis rule (Article 9 CPR; other European States have similar rules), often also known as ‘universal jurisdiction’ however clearly the rule has its constraints. Claimant’s lawyer, Meester Liesbeth Zegveld, argues the application of the rule here. The piece includes assessment of sovereign immunity, and the involvement of Article 6 ECHR. Its outcome will also play a role in issues of corporate social responsibility and jurisdiction.
Clearly the moment I have a court opinion I shall post more.
Article 6, Ben Gantz, Benjamin Gantz, Corporate social responsibility, CSR, ECHR, forum necessitatis, Gaza, https://uitspraken.rechtspraak.nl/inziendocument?id=ECLI:NL:RBDHA:2020:559, Israel, Netherlands, universal jurisdiction
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.
Update 26 July 2019 the English version of the judgment is now available here.
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.
(Handbook of) European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 8, Headings 220.127.116.11., 8.3.2.
Alien Tort Statute, anchor, Article 8(1), Article 8(1) Brussels Ia, ATS, BIa, bizhumanrights, Brussels I recast, Brussels Ia, Brussels Regulation, Certiorari, Corporate social responsibility, CSR, discovery shopping, ECLI:NL:RBDHA:2019:4233, Extraterritoriality, Foreign Legal Assistance (FLA), https://uitspraken.rechtspraak.nl/inziendocument?id=ECLI:NL:RBDHA:2019:6670, Human rights, Jurisdiction, Kiobel, Netherlands, Right to fair trial, Royal dutch Petroleum, Shell, USSC
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