The European Commission’s Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence proposal. Some thoughts on the conflict of laws.

I have reported on conflict of laws (jurisdictional and applicable law) angles to the EP’s draft proposals on Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence before. As I discuss in those posts (more analysis is on NOVA’s site here), many of the suggested routes created more difficulties than they solved. In the eventual February proposal (with 71 recitals: that is poor legislative drafting), the conflict of laws ambitions are much reduced. Leigh Day have a good summary of the issues here. Thank you Jorian Hamster for poking me to put my thoughts to paper.

The jurisdictional ambition is now merely expressed in terms of regulatory scope. On p.15 under the proportionality assessment, the proposal justifies its public international scope using the effects doctrine:

The EU turnover criterion for third-country companies creates a link to the EU. Including only turnover generated in the Union is justified since such a threshold, appropriately calibrated, creates a territorial connection between the third-country companies and the Union by the effects that the activities of these companies may have on the EU internal market, which is sufficient for the Union law to apply to third-country companies.

Proposed A2(1) focuses on ‘EU corporations’ (“companies which are formed in accordance with the legislation of a Member State) and proposed A2(2) looks at non-EU corporations (“companies which are formed in accordance with the legislation of a third country”), each with relevant thresholds distinguishing between quantitative (turnover) and qualitative (risk sectors: textiles, agriculture, extractive industries) criteria.

I am not sure why the lex incorporationis is preferred as the trigger criterion. Domicile as defined in Brussels Ia‘s Article 63 could be more attractive, seeing as it captures corporations with statutory seat outside of the EU but with their central administration or principal place of business here.

‘Turnover generated in the EU’ is bound to provoke some discussions however experience from in particular competition law should be able to help here.

The most obvious anchor point for applicable law is proposed A22. This sets out the requirement for Member States to define rules governing the civil liability of the company for damages arising due to its failure to comply with the due diligence requirements, and then suggests in (5)

Member States shall ensure that the liability provided for in provisions of national law transposing this Article is of overriding mandatory application in cases where the law applicable to claims to that effect is not the law of a Member State.

The intention of this Article is to make the national civil liability rules which Member States are due to ensure in follow-up of the future Directive, so-called ‘overriding mandatory law’ aka ‘lois de police’ aka ‘lois d’application immédiate’ under A16 Rome II. The challenge for the EU to harmonise private law, such as civil liability rules, shows in this formulation. The EC makes recourse to a Directive, not a Regulation, since (p.17)

The proposed instrument is a Directive, since Article 50 TFEU is the legal basis for company law legislation regarding the protection of the interests of companies’ members and others with a view to making such protection equivalent throughout the Union. Article 50 TFEU requires the European Parliament and the Council to act by means of directives.

Hence rather than formulating the future Directive’s liability provisions itself as of overriding EU law nature (a possibility expressly foreseen in Rome I’s rules on applicable law for contracts, but not impossible I believe within Rome II), the Directive will oblige Member States to ensure the lois de police character of their future rules implementing the Directive.

I understand the difficulty yet I think the proposal could shortcut the discussion (and avoid difficulties in case a Member State fails to declare the lois de police nature) by declaring

‘Member States’ provisions of national liability law transposing this Article are of overriding mandatory application in cases where the law applicable to claims to that effect is not the law of a Member State.’

(the latter, in my proposal struck through part I believe is simply redundant).

In claims based on tortious liability, the Directive is most likely to be used to help establish fault (by action or omission). The remainder of the action (solidarity between various tortfeasors, damage calculation etc) will remain subject to the lex causae otherwise applicable. In claims based on unjust enrichment (a business and human rights route much worth exploring for supply chain cases) the Directive will most likely remain of smaller use seeing as these claims do not aim to establish liability, however the  paper trail which the Directive will ensure, may be of documentary use here, too.

Geert.

The UKSC in Highbury Poultry Farm. On mens rea and EU law.

I am a bit late with a post as a follow-up to my Tweet, below, re the Supreme Court’s judgment in Highbury Poultry Farm Produce Ltd, R (on the application of) v Crown Prosecution Service [2020] UKSC 39. Thankfully, the judgment is of more than fleeting relevance. It is also a good example of the structured approach to legal argument, its discussion in scholarship and its engagement with the parties’ legal arguments which will be missed post Brexit.

A poultry slaughterhouse was being accused of breaching Regulation 1099/2009 on the protection of animals at the time of killing – the same Regulation at stake in the CJEU Shechita proceedings.

Core issue in the case is whether the EU law at issue implies a requirement for mens rea (criminal intent) in the ability for Member States to discipline its breach. If no means rea is required, the law is one of strict liability.

At 14 Lord Burrows makes the point that the Regulation at issue left it to the Member States to determine the sanctions rolled-out by national law to ensure compliance with the Regulation. Had a Member State decided to deploy civil sanctions only, that would have been fine: criminal law enforcement was not necessary. What follows is a good summary of the authority on means of UK and EU statutory interpretation, with in the case at issue particular emphasis on the impact of recitals: at 51: an unclear recital does not override a clear article.

Conclusion after consideration of the Regulation (the only stain on the analysis being the lack of linguistic input (a fleeting reference at 32 only), given the CILFIT authority on equal authenticity)): that all animals which have been stunned must be bled by incising at least one of the carotid arteries or the vessels from which they arise, is formulated by the Regulation as an obligation of strict liability under EU law. Hence its effet utile requires that Member States that opt for enforcing it via criminal law, employ strict liability in that enforcement.

Reference to the CJEU was neither sought nor seriously contemplated.

Geert.

 

The innovation principle’s continued journey.

A short update on the innovation principle‘s continued (corporate-sponsored, let’s be frank) journey.

Thank you first of all prof Maria Lee for signalling the UK’s planned introduction of an ‘innovation test’, to be piloted as part of industrial strategy. Its goal is expressed as ‘We will create an outcome-focused, flexible regulatory system that enables innovation to thrive while protecting citizens and the environment.’ Not much more detail is given. Formulated as such, it does nothing that the current EU regulatory model does not already address – its true goal undoubtedly is a post-Brexit libertarian regulatory environment.

Further, Nina Holland observed with eagle eyes the link between Nafta 2.0 (USMCA) and innovation, in particular Article 12-A-4 ‘parties’ “recognize the importance of developing and implementing measures in a manner that achieves their respective level of protection without creating unnecessary economic barriers or impediments to technological innovation’ (like the UK initiative: meaningless for already addressed by current international trade agreements; the real intention actually is deregulation). American industry has been arguing that the US should ‘build on’ the new NAFTA when negotiating with the EU (should TTIP ever be resuscitated).

Geert.

 

Comparative US /EU jurisdiction material: Mitchell v. DePuy Orthopaedics (Missouri); and KGS v Facebook (Alabama).

Thank you Stephen McConnell for flagging Mitchell v. DePuy Orthopaedics, Inc., 2019 U.S. Dist. (Missouri) and Alani Golanski for doing the same for KGS v Facebook at the Alabama Supreme Court,

Both cases have plenty of scope for comparative analysis viz EU law and non-US common law. Which is why I had pondered them for use in exam essays but in the end did not – they might come in handy at a later stage. 

Readers best refer to the reports linked above for a full picture. In short, Mitchell involves the minimum contacts rule as well as ‘directing activities towards forum residents’: both have clear echos (and differences) in EU jurisdictional rules. On neither ground was specific (what the EU would call ‘special’) jurisdiction upheld.

In the Facebook case, Facebook argument is included on p.10-11. Claimant put forward a case for jurisdiction on p.13-14. She argues i.a. effects doctrine. Bryan J discussed both extensively p.15 ff and held that doing business in Alabama is not sufficient for personal jur., and (p.39) Facebook engagement with complaints not enough for specific jurisdiction.

In both cases the US Supreme Court’s decision in Bristol-Myers Squibb is cited as highly relevant authority.

Geert.

Ghostbusters and the Marshmallow Man. The European Commission covert consultation and study on the innovation principle.

Update 29 November 2019 for our assessment of the results of the study see here and press response here.

I have reported before on the innovation principle, the industry efforts behind it and the European Commission response to same. I have linked our initial paper as well as media and other reports in an earlier posting. The most comprehensive overview of the genesis of the principle is included here.

One of the comments I made in that earlier post is that Commissioner Moedas has emphasised verbatim that the innovation principle is not binding EU law: ‘“I think we have some misunderstanding here … The Horizon Europe proposal does not in any way establish the innovation principle or incorporate it into EU law. It is referred to in the recitals but it is not something that is [in] the proposal,” he said.

At the end of the original Ghostbusters movie, a giant Marshmallow Man appears as a result of the main ghost’s conjuring up himself as the physical manifestation of the first thought popping up into the mind of the lead characters’ mind (further info here). The road to turning the imagination of the innovation principle into reality is currently equally continuing with no less than a Commission-ordered Consultation Report, from the Centre for European Policy Studies, on the evaluation of the innovation principle: see the Directorate-General’s invitation letter and the questionnaire.

Both documents reached me via a little Berlaymont bird. I have anonymised individuals mentioned in the documents and I have also changed the order of questions in the questionnaire just in case individual copies were drafted to facilitate the coveted ‘confidentiality’ – contents of the questionnaire have stayed the same. The questionnaire is meant for ‘selected stakeholders’ who are instructed not to ‘share, quote or cite it’.

The principle even if it does exist certainly does not do so in EU law – as confirmed by the Commissioner. Yet it is his DG which has instructed CEPS to carry out the study, confidentially: not exactly a driving principle of the Better Regulation Agenda to which the documents purport to answer.

The invite states that ‘the overall aim of this evaluation is to describe the status quo and prepare recommendations for future action in accordance with the better regulation guidelines. These recommendations will serve to apply the Innovation Principle in a way which helps the achievement of EU policy objectives and is consistent with identified stakeholder needs.’

The text pays lip service to the general interest which ‘innovation’ is meant to serve, yet also repeatedly emphasises that existing regulatory hurdles to ‘innovation’ ought to be classified and potentially removed; that the EC may take the necessary steps to initiate this; and nowhere does it question the very existence of the principle.

It is noteworthy in this respect that Horizon Europe, Europe’s next flagship research and development program, refers drastically less to responsibly research and innovation -RRI than did its predecessor. Parliament did not halt references to the innovation principle in its recitals.

I would like to emphasise again that with my co-authors of the paper, I am not an unshakable opponent of the introduction of an innovation principle. Provided the discussion on it is done in the appropriate institutions and at the very least in the public domain. A confidential survey confirms the reactionary character which this principle so far represents on the EU scene.

Geert.

 

Zetta Jet: COMI, time of filing, forum shopping, ordre public in insolvency. A comparative law Fest in Singapore.

An interesting comparison may be made between [2019] SGHC 53 Re Zetta Jet Pte Ltd and [2018] EWHC 2186 (Ch) Videology on which I reported here. Both concern recognition of foreign main (or not) proceeding under of the UNCITRAL Model Law on Cross-Border Insolvency (“the Model Law”). Zetta Jet came to me courtesy of my former student Filbert Lam, and has now also been analysed to great effect by Tan Meiyen and colleagues here.

The judgment is a master class on COMI determination, but also on comparative legal analysis re time of filing etc.: best read judgment and Tan’s note for oneself. Of particular note are

  • the expression of sympathy by Aedit Abdullah J for forum shopping in insolvency law; compare also with Ocean Rig, and Kekhman; here this took the particular form of following the US approach to selecting the date on which the application for recognition is filed, as relevant to COMI determination (friendlier to forum shopping than the EU’s and England’s date of commencement of the foreign insolvency proceedings);
  • the emphasis on the basket of criteria required to identify COMI;
  • the narrow approach to ordre public despite Singaporean court order having been defied; yet also the relevance of the fact that these orders post defiance had been varied.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.6.1 et al.

Cogeco: Limitation periods and civil procedure ius commune at the Court of Justice.

The title of this piece is optimistic. Broadly defined many of the conflicts issues I address touch upon civil procedure of course. Yet I rarely address civil procedure pur sang (see here for an example). C-637/17 Cogeco was held by the European Court of Justice yesterday.

The Court held that the EU (competition law) damages Directive 2014/104 does not apply ratione temporis to the facts at issue.

The Directive includes two recitals on limitation periods:

Recital 36 argues

‘National rules on the beginning, duration, suspension or interruption of limitation periods should not unduly hamper the bringing of actions for damages. This is particularly important in respect of actions that build upon a finding by a competition authority or a review court of an infringement. To that end, it should be possible to bring an action for damages after proceedings by a competition authority, with a view to enforcing national and Union competition law. The limitation period should not begin to run before the infringement ceases and before a claimant knows, or can reasonably be expected to know, the behaviour constituting the infringement, the fact that the infringement caused the claimant harm and the identity of the infringer. Member States should be able to maintain or introduce absolute limitation periods that are of general application, provided that the duration of such absolute limitation periods does not render practically impossible or excessively difficult the exercise of the right to full compensation.’

Recital 49 adds

‘Limitation periods for bringing an action for damages could be such that they prevent injured parties and infringers from having sufficient time to come to an agreement on the compensation to be paid. In order to provide both sides with a genuine opportunity to engage in consensual dispute resolution before bringing proceedings before national courts, limitation periods need to be suspended for the duration of the consensual dispute resolution process.’

Article 10 then foresees expressis verbis

1.   Member States shall, in accordance with this Article, lay down rules applicable to limitation periods for bringing actions for damages. Those rules shall determine when the limitation period begins to run, the duration thereof and the circumstances under which it is interrupted or suspended.

2.   Limitation periods shall not begin to run before the infringement of competition law has ceased and the claimant knows, or can reasonably be expected to know:

(a) of the behaviour and the fact that it constitutes an infringement of competition law;

(b) of the fact that the infringement of competition law caused harm to it; and

(c) the identity of the infringer.

3.   Member States shall ensure that the limitation periods for bringing actions for damages are at least five years.

4.   Member States shall ensure that a limitation period is suspended or, depending on national law, interrupted, if a competition authority takes action for the purpose of the investigation or its proceedings in respect of an infringement of competition law to which the action for damages relates. The suspension shall end at the earliest one year after the infringement decision has become final or after the proceedings are otherwise terminated

 

Article 11 adds for joint and several liability

‘Member States shall ensure that any limitation period applicable to cases under this paragraph is reasonable and sufficient to allow injured parties to bring such actions.’

and finally Article 18(1) reads

‘Member States shall ensure that the limitation period for bringing an action for damages is suspended for the duration of any consensual dispute resolution process. The suspension of the limitation period shall apply only with regard to those parties that are or that were involved or represented in the consensual dispute resolution.’

Of note in my view is first of all the unavailing nature of much of the recitals quoted above. As the overview shows, the recitals are more or less verbatim repeated in the actual rules; or the other way around: the Articles’ provisions are copy /pasted into the recitals. To that there is not much point.

Further, the minimum period imposed by the Directive (not applicable, as noted, ratione temporis) is five years. (Compare in the mooted amendment of the motor insurance Directive  2009/103: minimum 4 years is being suggested – subject to gold plating). The Court could not evidently read that minimum period as being ius commune. However it did read much of the qualitative requirements of recitals and articles effectively as ius commune using the effective enforcement of EU competition law as an anchor. It held that the Portuguese limitation period of three years, which, first, starts to run from the date on which the injured party was aware of its right to compensation, even if the infringer is not known and, secondly, may not be suspended or interrupted in the course of proceedings before the national competition authority, renders the exercise of the right to full compensation practically impossible or excessively difficult.

I realise it is a bit of a stretch to see this as a move towards a European Ius Commune on limitation periods. Yet it might be a first cautious step.

Geert.

Mirror entries in EU (hazardous) waste law. Campos Sánchez-Bordona AG in Verlezza et al. I.a. a useful reminder of the true meaning of precaution.

Update 31 March 2019 the CJEU agrees with its AG. The holder of the waste is required to carry out the relevant internationally recognised tests. Precaution implies that only if after such test which has to be as complete as possible, the presence of hazardous characteristics cannot be clearly established, the hazardous character must be presumed.

Joined Cases C-487/C-489/17 Alfonso Verlezza et al, in which Campos Sánchez-Bordona AG opined  last week, (no version in English available) is one of those rather technical EU environmental law cases which for that reason risks being overlooked by many. This is even more the case in EU waste law. Many of its provisions are subject to criminal law sanctions, hence encouraging defendants to take its application to the most intricate of corners so as to avoid a criminal conviction.

Verlezza et al concerns the implementation by Italy of a notoriously tricky part of EU waste law: the determination of wastes as being ‘hazardous’. Clearly, these wastes are subject to a range of stricter measures than ordinary wastes. Interestingly, while these wastes are more dangerous than ordinary wastes, they are often also more attractive to waste industries: for as secondary raw materials they may have high value (one can think of cartridges, batteries, heavy metals).

Protracted to and fro at the time between the European Commission and the Member States plus Parliament (which I explain in relevant chapter of my Handbook of EU Waste law; which I am pleased to note the AG refers to), eventually led to a regime with two or if one likes three categories: wastes considered per se hazardous; and wastes which may be considered hazardous or not, depending on whether or not they display hazardous properties in the case at issue (hence three categories: hazardous per se; non-hazardous and hazardous in concreto). This latter category are the so-called ‘mirror entries’: wastes originating from the same source which depending on the specifics of the case, may be hazardous or not.

Wastes produced by households (‘domestic waste’) are not considered hazardous. However the AG emphasises correctly that this exemption from the hazardous waste regime (via Article 20 of the waste framework Directive, 2008/98) does not apply to the case at issue, given that the ‘domestic’ wastes concerned have already been mechanically sorted. It is the qualification of the waste residues following sorting that needs to be resolved.

The mirror entries are the result of heated debate between the Institutions. The EC was hesitant to provide a binding list given the need for individual assessment; Council and EP were looking for regulatory certainty. In the end, Member States may (indeed have to)  consider waste as hazardous when the material displays one or more of the hazardous properties listed in Annex to the EU list of waste. This also requires the Member States to issue a procedure which guides this assessment.  It is the specifics of the Italian procedure (producers have to classify specific streams of waste as either hazardous or not; they have to carry out the necessary scientific tests; they are bound by the precautionary principle) which have triggered the case at issue.

At 19 the AG refers to the discussion in Italian scholarship: one part among others on the basis of the precautionary principle defends a reversal of the burden of proof: waste in the mirror entries is considered hazardous unless industry proves its non-hazardous characteristics; the other part proposes that scientific analysis needs to determine hazardousness in each specific case (quoting the sustainable development of the sector in support).

The AG opines that the Italian modus operandi needs to be given the green light, among others referring to the recent April 2018 EC guidance on wastes classification and the criteria defined in the Directive, which render a waste hazardous: producers of waste are perfectly capable indeed in the Directive’s set-up have to assess the hazardous character of the waste and the Italian regulations are a capable way of ensuring this.

The defendants’ ultimate argument that the precautionary principle should allow them to consider waste as hazardous even without such assessment, also fails: scientific assessment is able to determine a substance’s hazardous characteristics.  Defendants’ approach would lead to all mirror entries being defined as hazardous. The Directive’s principle of cost benefit analysis ensures this does not lead to excessive testing-  proportionate testing for properties will do the job. (It may be surprising that the defendants make this argument; but remember: in a criminal procedure all arguments are useful to try and torpedo national law or practice upon which a prosecution is based; without a valid law,, no prosecution).

This latter part of the Opinion, related to the precautionary principle, is a useful reminder to its opponents (who came out in force following this summer’s mutagenesis ruling; for excellent review of which see KJ Garnett here), of the principle’ true meaning.

Geert.

Handbook of EU Waste law, 2nd ed. 2015, OUP, Chapter 2, Heading 2. ff (to which the AG refers).

Videology: Snowden J’s textbook consideration of COMI under UNCITRAL Model Law and EU Insolvency Regulations.

Looking at my back queue for blog postings, [2018] EWHC 2186 (Ch) Videology is one I do wish to bring to the attention of my readers. Snowden J refused to recognise proceedings under Chapter 11 of the US Bankruptcy Code (“Chapter 11”) in relation to Videology Ltd as a foreign main proceeding under Article 17 of the UNCITRAL Model Law on Cross-Border Insolvency (“the Model Law”) as incorporated into English law in Schedule 1 to the Cross-Border Insolvency Regulations 2006 (the “CBIR”). He did so because he was not satisfied that the centre of main interests (“COMI”) of the Company was in the US where the Chapter 11 proceedings are taking place. He did, however, grant recognition of the Chapter 11 proceedings as a foreign non-main proceeding.

The Judgment is a master class on COMI determination.  Of note are

  • at 28 the rejection of, for so long as the UK remains a party to the Recast EIR,  any different approach in relation to the concept of COMI under the CBIR/Model Law and the Recast EIR;
  • the emphasis on a basket of criteria required to displace the presumption of COMI in place of the registered office;
  • at 42 ff the rejection of a narrow focus on, or attachment of overriding importance to, the location in which the directors and senior management act;
  • Snowden J’s rejection at 46 ff of the Head Office approach as being determinant under EU law (see also Handbook heading 5.6.1.2.4); and
  • the factors referred to eventually to uphold the presumption: at 72: ‘In addition to being the place of its registered office, the UK is where the Company’s trading premises and staff are located, where its customer and creditor relationships are established, where it administers its relations with its trade creditors on a day-to-day basis using those premises and local staff, and where its main assets (the receivables and cash at bank) are located. All of those factors will be visible and immediately ascertainable by the customers, and in particular by the trade creditors, of the Company. The UK is also, importantly, where representations were made to the Company’s main finance creditor that its COMI was situated.’

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.6.1 (specifically also 5.6.1.2.4 for the Head Office discussion).

Micro and nanoplastics pollution. The European Union shifting into gear.

Update 10 January 2019 the final report is out here. Social scientists will be particularly interested in Chapter 3 and Chapter 4, where the report takes a holistic view of risk management.

There are many scientific and legal /regulatory angles to the pollution caused by micro and nanoplastics (MNPs). I was pleased to have been invited to be part of a scoping exercise with the European Commissions Group of Chief Scientific Advisors, following which that Group issued its initial statement early July.

MNPs is an issue where the EU undoubtedly can recognise its regulatory leadership – at the same time appreciating that the challenge is of a truly global nature (many of the worst plastics pollution issues are located in river deltas way outside EU borders). At the scientific level, studies particularly in the marine environment show cause for great concern – but not necessarily easy fixes.

I accepted therefore to be part of the SAPEA Consortium (Science Advice for Policy by European Academies) Working Group on MNPs, which will oversee in first instance the collation of the state of the art: from a regulatory as well as a scientific point of view – and subject to tight deadlines.

Autumn should be interesting.

Geert.

 

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