Municipio de Mariana v BHP. Questions on Brussels Ia’s lis pendens rules viz third states remain. Yet overall approach to environment, human rights suits against corporations in their domicile, to be applauded.

Municipio De Mariana & Ors v BHP Group (UK) Ltd & Anor [2022] EWCA Civ 951 (background to the case here) is the appeal against the stay (and partial strike-out), on forum non conveniens, A33-34 Brussels Ia and case-management grounds ordered by Justice Turner. The Court of Appeal has overturned all three reasons for a stay. Bar appeal with the Supreme Court (which the defendants are likely to seek) the claimants may now bring their claim in the courts of England and Wales.

For the benefit of full disclosure I should add I am instructed for claimants in the case; this post however does not speak for claimants or co-counsel in the case and is merely my academic view on the judgment.

The judgment runs to 107 pages (not excessive given the issues and facts covered). There is little point in me rehashing it all (again, reference to my previous post may be useful). 40 pages are spent describing the applicable law in Brasil and the various proceedings underway there. This is of particular importance seeing as the crux of all three defences advanced is that the proceedings are already underway in Brasil and should not be duplicated by an English procedure.

In the main:

Abuse is dealt with [170] ff, with the key points for reversal listed [179] and the CA’s own analysis detailed thereafter, summarising in [234] ff.

Of particular note here is the rebuke of Justice Turner’s finding of ‘unmanageability’ of proceedings (which the CA as such does not believe will be the case) having dominated his subsequent findings on other elements of abuse, and the use of forum non conveniens criteria for the assessment of abuse.

[182] Consideration should have been made of the question of the availability of full redress in Brazil. To those following business and human rights litigation, this will be a welcome finding. [186] Support for manageability of proceedings not having a place in the abuse assessment (other than [187] if the claimant were to have vexatiously made the proceedings unmanageable himself), was found in Mastercard v Merricks [2020] UKSC 5.

[190] discussion of what Turner J at the abuse level,  saw as complications arising out of the existence of parallel proceedings in Brazil, already indicate the direction the Court took on the forum non and A34 issue: the many differences between the English and the Brazilian proceedings.

The Article 34 Brussels Ia application is discussed [237] ff and is of particular relevance to readers of the blog.

Firstly [256] the Court of Appeal settles for now the Privatbank /Euroeco discussion on ‘expediency’ (see also ia SCOR v Barclays) in favour of the former: What is required to fulfil A34(1)(a)’s condition is that it must be desirable for the two actions to be heard and determined together in order to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgments, irrespective of whether that is a practical possibility. (Claimants have reserved the right to contest this should the matter go before the Supreme Court).

Further [257] the test of relatedness for the purposes of A34 is held by the CA to be a broad test: [243] per Tesauro AG in C-406/92 The Tatry, whenever the judge seized of the stay request considers that the reasoning adopted by the court hearing the earlier proceedings may concern issues likely to be relevant to its own decision, the cases can be said to be related. This is opposed to the narrow approach in the House of Lords Sarrio SA v Kuwait Investment Office [1991] AC 32: there the HoL held that for there to be a risk of irreconcilable judgments the inquiry is limited to “primary” issues which are those necessary to establish the cause of action, and does not include issues which the court might or might not decide and which would not be essential to its conclusion.

On the condition ‘that the court of the third State will give a judgment capable of recognition‘, at the hearing the question was asked whether a twofold condition exists, namely (i) that a judgment was expected as a matter of fact and (ii) that the expected judgment was one which was capable of recognition and, where applicable, enforcement. The Court [260] supports the view that only the second (ii) condition applies. I do not think that is correct and I am not convinced by the Court’s travaux analysis on this point [266] – I detail this in my forthcoming paper in the JPIL. As for that second condition, the CA holds [269] that ‘the exercise at this stage is a conceptual one, looking at the type of judgment to which the third state pending action may give rise, and evaluating whether it attracts recognition, or where applicable enforceability.’

Necessity for the proper administration of justice’ is dealt with [273] ff (although it confusingly includes discussion of more than just this ultimate A33-34 condition), starting with the discussion whether a stay was available or could be justified on a “consolidation” basis (effectively, an allocation of jurisdiction [275], or on a “wait and see” basis [temporary case-management: wait and see whether and to what extent the outcome of the case ex-EU affects the action in the member state]. [277] Underhill LJ takes a holistic approach: Does waiting for the outcome [of the Brazilian proceedings held to be related] give rise to advantages which sufficiently outweigh any disadvantages such that a stay is necessary? [279] The CA takes a broad approach to the issues that might be considered, including issues classic to a forum non conveniens analysis. I believe that is right, with the important caveat that A34 must not effectively be conflated with forum non (which is what the first instance judge had effectively done) (compare Ness).

[282] the Court takes a formalistic (and correct) view on the ‘related proceedings’ and their being ‘pending’:

for the purposes of the article 34 application, the nature and extent of overlap which falls to be considered when addressing whether and to what extent there is a risk of irreconcilable judgments, and in considering whether that risk weighs in favour of a stay being necessary for the proper administration of justice, is limited by reference to that which might be decided in the [pending Brazilian proceedings].

In particular, an advantage eg in winding-up proceedings viz the defendants or related undertakings, which could be obtained down the line from the outcome of the related proceedings, would not be caught by the comparative overlap and the likelihood of relatedness therefore is seriously reduced ([283] contrary to Turner J’s finding that that the list of areas in which potentially
irreconcilable judgments are liable to arise was “almost endless”).

[291] ff the CA makes its own assessment of the ‘proper administration of justice’ requirement given the judge’s core mistakes (particularly, his abuse conflation and the consideration given to future proceedings which are not pending).

[298] The CA holds that the continuation of the claim against BHP Australia (for which later in the judgment it finds that this is not barred on forum non grounds) in and of itself argues against an A34 stay (and that relevant parts of Lord Briggs’ speech in Vedanta do not change that).

Obiter [300] ff it lists other factors against a stay: [302] there is a real possibility that final resolution of the related BRA proceedings,  if they resume at all, is well over a decade away; [303] ‘For there to be a further delay of years, and quite possibly over a decade, before [E&W proceedings] could resume would cause very substantial prejudice to the claimants in obtaining relief, and would be inimical to the efficient administration of justice as a result of all the well-known problems which delay brings to the process’; [304] ff there are many disadvantages to the BRA proceedings including that these will not address the liability of the defendants in the E&W proceedings; [308] the degree of overlap between the proceedings is limited.

The forum non application is highly relevant given the English courts’ preponderant reliance on it, outside the BIa context, following UKSC Brownlie. Of note here is ia [345] the unrealistic prospect of the alternatives being suggested – I will leave the further forum non analysis to blogs less focused on European conflict of laws.

Rejection of a case-management stay is done succinctly, with Underhill LJ noting ia [374] that such stay would be incompatible with A34 and A4 BIa.

 

All in all I do not agree with each of the Court’s findings on tenets of A34, however in general the Court’s application reflects the correct approach to the Article, which very much makes a stay the exception.

Geert.

 

See also ‘Dude, where’s my EU court? On the application of Articles 33-34 Brussels Ia’s forum non conveniens- light rules’, Journal of Private International Law, forthcoming 2022.

Bourlakova v Bourlakov. An ‘everything including the kitchen sink’ jurisdictional challenge, with the Article 34 forum non light issues held obiter.

‘Soonish’ was pretty accurate – I have been busy teaching LAW5478 at Monash. In Bourlakova v Bourlakov [2022] EWHC 1269 (Ch),  Trower J held ia against a stay of English proceedings on Article 34 Brussels Ia grounds. My paper on Article 33-34 is in the editorial stages at the Journal of Private International Law and the case will be included in its overview of the case-law so far. That case-law is predominantly English, perhaps a reflection of how (wrongly) English courts are convinced into thinking the Article 33-34 defence is another form of a forum non convenience objection to jurisdiction.

As in many of the cases (including Municipio de Mariana in which a Court of Appeal judgment ought to be delivered around June /July), the judge has to consider a mixed forum non conveniens (for the non-EU based defendants) and Article 33-34 (for the EU domicileds) defence. On top of that, there are applications for a  case-management  stay, and objections to valid service in Latvia. In other words, the classic ‘everything including the kitchen sink’ jurisdictional defence, leading to a judgment of over 400 paras long!

Jurisdiction in the case as far as Brussels Ia i concerned, is a combination of Article 4 and 8(1) – the Lugano Convention also has a calling.

Claimants are Mrs Loudmila Bourlakova and two companies of which she is the ultimate beneficiary, one of which (Hermitage One Limited (“H1”)) is incorporated in the Isle of Man and the second of which (Greenbay Invest Holdings Limited (“Greenbay”)) is incorporated in the Seychelles.  First defendant is Oleg Bourlakov, who died on 21 June 2021, which was after the commencement of these proceedings but before the applications to challenge jurisdiction had been made. The major part of his and his family’s wealth derived from the acquisition and subsequent sale of Novoroscement OJSC, a major Russian cement producer, which was sold for US$1.45 billion in 2007. Both Bourlakovi are or were Ukrainian, Russian and Canadian nationals. At the material time they were both domiciled in Monaco, although during the course of their marriage they had lived in a number of other jurisdictions including Canada.

Claimants allege that, since late 2017, there had been an irretrievable breakdown in marital relations. Divorce proceedings were initiated by Mrs Bourlakova in Monaco in 2018. It was common ground in the Monaco divorce proceedings that the law governing the matrimonial property regime is Ukrainian law and the Ukrainian concept of community property applied to the marriage. The Monegasque courts remained seised of the divorce proceedings at the time of Mr Bourlakov’s death.

Second to fourth defendants were all involved in the provision of fiduciary corporate services and advice to Mr Bourlakov, together with companies and foundations owned or controlled by him. Domicile for these is England, Cyprus or Switzerland. Fifth defendant, domiciled in Israel, somehow got caught up in the proceedings through a family trust, and is pursuing alternative litigation in England. Sixth defendant is a German qualified lawyer domiciled in Latvia, other defendants (family members ) are domiciled at Estonia or (companies) Panama.

The essence of the allegations is that Mr Bourlakov and his advisers conspired to reduce the share of the ex-wife in the matrimonial estate.  Mr Bourlakov and Mrs Bourlakova have never lived in England and the alleged partnership at the heart of the dispute is unrelated to England, did not operate here and is not governed by English law. None of the underlying assets which the claimants believe form part of Mr Bourlakov’s estate are located in England (or even held through English companies). Neither though, does Monaco (the alternative forum suggested in the jurisdictional objection) feature in the factual matrix.  One of the defendants is domiciled in England and one or two relevant meetings were held in England.

Divorce proceedings were commenced in Monaco and Mr Bourlakov and his advisers filed criminal proceedings there against Mrs Bourlakova on the basis of alleged breach of trust, concealment and money-laundering.  As is often the case in continental European proceedings, a civil claim there was lodged with an investigating judge, which will eventually lead to a court required to rule on the civil claim as well as the criminal one. Mr Bourlakov’s compaint has led to nought however Mrs Bourlakova’s counterclaim is still pending there in some, disputed form, as are Mr Bourlakov’s estate proceedings.

There is an extraordinarily complex web of issues to be held under English and EU jurisdictional rules but I shall limit this post to the Article 34 stay application – which was held obiter.

The judge [292] firstly notes, as noted obiter (for the A34 defence was raised too late), with reference ia to CJEU Aertssen,  that the defendants had not properly established that the Monaco criminal proceedings, viewed from the pont of Monegasque criminal procedure, were an “action pending before the court of a third state” for the purposes of A34 at the time the current proceedings were commenced.

[294] ff also discuss, equally obiter, whether any related third state action must fall within the scope of BIa for A34 to apply at all. [298] ff in that respect refer to two cases in which it was accepted that the court must be satisfied that the proceedings pending in the foreign jurisdiction, as well as the English proceedings, fall within the scope of BIa. However, in neither [BB Energy (Gulf) DMCC v Al Amoudi, WWRT Ltd v Tyshchenko, both engaged with the insolvency exclusion of BIa] was there a judicial decision on the point.

[312] Trower J also notes that A34 ‘accepts more risk of an irreconcilable judgment than article 30’, despite the reference in the recitals to flexibility. ‘Related’ actions are also discussed with reference to Viegas, and the judge [330] ff suggests he would not have ordered a stay on five further grounds, some of them related it seems to the ‘sound administration of justice’ requirement (and cited, too, for the refusal of a case management stay).

A complex web of findings and claims, with the A34 discussion showing that much is still outstanding on its application. I do not yet know whether permission to appeal has been sought and if so, on what grounds.

Geert.

European Private International, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.15.3.2, para 2.539 ff

Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank v Shetty. Rome II applicable law for fraud, misrepresentation, instructs forum non conveniens stay.

Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank Pjsc v Shetty & Ors [2022] EWHC 529 (Comm) engages Rome II by way of the applicable law to the claim playing a role in the forum non conveniens challenge. (Compare BRG Noal v Kowski for a similar discussion under Rome I). The case confirms the importance of retained Rome I and II discussion. The stage is set at [7]

at the heart of the jurisdiction challenge is an assertion that England is manifestly not the most suitable forum for the resolution of this dispute which all defendants maintain should be resolved by the UAE courts. Unsurprisingly, ADCB places significant reliance for its case that England is the most suitable forum for resolution of this dispute on the fact that Plc was a FTSE 100 quoted company, that the contracts by which the two most important of the Core Facilities were given contractual effect (the Syndicated Facility Agreement and the Club Facility Agreement) were drafted and completed in London by a prominent London law firm and were subject to London arbitration clauses and on its contention that England is the governing law of the dispute. Equally unsurprisingly the defendants emphasise that Plc was a holding company that carried on no active business activity, that the activity in London was essentially administrative in nature, that the lending which it is alleged lies at the heart of the scheme was lending by ADCB (a UAE registered entity trading in the UAE) to entities within the Group including principally Healthcare, all of which were based elsewhere than England and Wales. They maintain that if what is alleged is true then this was from first to last a conspiracy that was conceived and carried into effect in the UAE. They maintain that the governing law is beyond argument UAE law.

I shall limit the post to the Rome II element: Pelling J discusses this [64] ff, with the core element [68-69]:

the damage occurred when a UAE based company drew down against or otherwise benefitted from the Core Facilities offered by a UAE based bank. …ADCB … ultimately acted upon the representations in Abu Dhabi, from where the relevant loan funds were drawn down by NMC Healthcare“.

In the case of a misrepresentation or fraud, the locus damni is held to be the place where that misrepresentation is acted upon. UAE law as lex causae is in fact also and primarily confirmed by A4(2) Rome II: joint place of habitual residence, held [71] to be the UAE. Application of the A4(3) escape clause is dismissed [77], and a passing reference to a potential for A12 Rome II’s culpa in contrahendo leading to English law as the lex contractus, is summarily dismissed [78].

A stay is granted.

Geert.

Samsung Electronics. A forum non conveniens assessment of claims re the settlement of follow-on competition law damages, closes with a PS on transparency in EU antitrust findings..

Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd & Ors v LG Display Co Ltd & Anor [2022] EWCA Civ 423 concerns follow-on damages claimed against non-EU based defendants. The European Commission had earlier found the existence of a cartel. The Court of Appeal confirms the refusal of service out of the jurisdiction on forum non conveniens grounds, holding, like the first instance judge, that England & Wales are clearly not the appropriate forum (Taiwan and /or South Korea are).

I report the case for it contains an interesting Ps on the confidentiality of the EC finding: Males LJ:

The parties were united in urging upon us that the Commission Decision is confidential and that reference to its recitals should not be made in open court. I have to say that, as a general proposition, this seems paradoxical. I find it hard to see how a Decision can at the same time be both confidential and binding in public follow-on proceedings. To that extent it appears that any requirement of confidentiality may be in tension with the fundamental constitutional principle of open justice. Moreover, this particular Commission Decision deals with events which are now in the distant past and has been extensively litigated in the years since it was made. It is hard to think that there is any real confidentiality left.

Nevertheless I have been careful to confine my citation from the Decision to what is necessary to explain the submissions made to us and the conclusions which I have reached. I have referred only to recitals which were alleged to explain and support the operative part of the Decision (cf. Emerald Supplies Ltd v British Airways Plc [2015] EWCA Civ, [2016] Bus LR 145 at [68]) and have omitted any reference to other participants in the cartel who were not represented before us.

This invites interesting reflections on the principles of open justice in EU competition law findings – a discussion I shall leave to others.

Geert.

BRG NOAL v Kowski. A debatable applicable law consideration under A4 Rome I decides a forum non stay.

BRG NOAL GP SARL & Anor v Kowski & Anor [2022] EWHC 867 (Ch) continues the current trend of forum non conveniens applications galore, following Brexit. In the case at issue, with Luxembourg suggested as the appropriate forum, applicable law determination, under (retained) Rome I’s ‘characteristic performance’ rule plays a core role.

Applicable law needs to be determined essentially viz an undertaking as I understand it, by a, validly removed, investment fund General Partner, not to torpedo the subsequent orderly continuation of the fund. The core commitment reads

“I, [name], hereby acknowledge that [NOAL GP] is the managing general partner (“General partner”) of [the Fund] with effect from 27 August 2021 and unconditionally and irrevocably undertake (a) not to assert otherwise, or to induce or procure an assertion to the contrary or otherwise challenge or question the validity of its appointment or induce or produce such challenge or question, in any applicable forum and (b) to cooperate with and assist the General Partner in completing a full, orderly and timely transfer of the control of the Partnership and all of its assets and any obligations to the General Partner”.

Claimant [57] suggests the specific Undertaking in and of itself meets the CJEU Handte definition of a stand alone contractual obligation, however Smith J does not specifically hold on this for in her view even if this were correct, the overall contractual construction would have an impact on the applicable law consideration, seeing as in her view:

no choice of law was made; no default ‘passe partout’ contract as listed in A4(1) Rome I applies; A4(2) Rome I’s ‘characteristic performance’ test does not lead to an answer ([61]: there is no ‘characteristic performance’] and at any rate even if there were, the judge would have applied A4(3)’s escape clause to lead to Luxembourg law; and the ‘proper law of the contract’ per A4(4) Rome I ‘clearly’ [63-64] leads to Luxembourgish law.

In conclusion, a stay is ordered and the forum non application is successful. In my view the judge jumped too easily to Articles 4(3) and (4), denying Article 4(2)’s or even Article 3 choice of law’s effet utile. It is not unusual for judges to let their predetermination to apply A4(3) and /or (4) determine their A4(2) search for a lex contractus. Yet that frequency does not make the judgment right.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed, 2021, Heading 3.2.6.2.

ValueLicensing v Microsoft. The High Court, in rejecting forum non conveniens, puts great emphasis on only English courts determining the course of English law post Brexit.

In JJH Enterprises Ltd (Trading As ValueLicensing) v Microsoft Corporation & Ors [2022] EWHC 929 (Comm) Picken J makes a debatable point in his discussion of a forum non conveniens application by defendants, Microsoft.

In the proceedings ValueLicensing claim damages arising from alleged breaches of competition law by Microsoft. The claim is a ‘stand alone’ one, not a ‘follow-on’ one. There is no underlying infringement decision of the European Commission (or any domestic competition regulator) on which ValueLicensing can rely to establish that an infringement of competition law has been committed.

Some of the Microsoft entities firstly seek summary dismissal of the case against them, arguing they cannot be held liable for an alleged infringement of either Article 101 or 102 TFEU as a result of an overall Microsoft ‘campaign’ in which they did not demonstrably take part. Here [31] ff there is interesting discussion ia of Provimi (Roche Products Ltd. & Ors v Provimi Ltd [2003] EWHC 961 (Comm)), which held that an entity that implements an agreement in breach of A101 to which a member of the same undertaking is a party can be held liable for the infringement even though the implementer itself does not know of the infringement. Specifically, whether Provimi was wrongly decided following from Cooper Tire Europe Ltd v Bayer Public Co Ltd [2010] EWCA Civ 864  – this is an issue for which CJEU referral is not possible post Brexit.

The judge however refers to the broader concept of ‘undertaking’ in the A101-102 sense following eg CJEU C-882/19 Sumal SL v Mercedes Benz Trucks Espana SL. Sumal, Picken J holds [44], is relevant authority both pre and post Brexit.

Quite how parties see a difference in the lex causae for the competition law infringement pre and post Brexit is not clear to me. Pre Brexit it is said to be ‘English law’ (held to include 101-102 TFEU prior to Brexit), full stop, while post Brexit that law is said to be determined by (retained) Article 6 Rome II, which for same of the claim will be English law as being one of the ‘affected markets’ per A6 Rome II.

It is in the forum non application that the judge posits [78] that an important consideration of England as the more appropriate forum, is

it is clear that Microsoft UK’s position at trial will be that in certain material respects English law has taken a divergent path from EU law. In such circumstances, it would be wholly inappropriate, and certainly undesirable, for a court in Ireland to be determining whether Microsoft UK is right about this. On the other hand, there would be no difficulty with the Court here applying EU competition law, either as part of English law (in respect of the pre-Brexit period and, if that is what the Court determines is the case, also in respect of the post-Brexit period) or as part of the laws of other EU/EEA member states, since the Court here is very experienced in doing just that.

If it is true that under forum non, only English courts can be held properly to determine the direction of English law post Brexit, the hand of many a claimant in forum non applications will surely be strengthened.

Geert.

Al Assam v Tsouvelekakis. Yet another lengthy forum non conveniens discussion, keeping the case in E&W and not Cyprus.

Update 22 08 2022 a freezing order in the case was granted on 11 August.

Al Assam & Ors v Tsouvelekakis [2022] EWHC 451 (Ch) shows the way many claims involving EU Member States facts or defendants are likely to go, until the novelty of newly found forum non freedom wears off perhaps: with intensive forum non conveniens-based jurisdictional challenges.

The defendant is domiciled in England and Wales. The claimants are the settlors of 2 Cypriot trusts who claim for the losses suffered in connection with the trusts’ investments. The trusts were both established under the International Trusts Law of the Republic of Cyprus.

As in Klifa v Slater, the forum non test, following Spiliada and VTB v Nutritek, [12] involves two limbs: Under limb 1 of the test, the Defendant must establish that the courts of Cyprus are both (i) “available” and (ii) are clearly or distinctly more appropriate than the English courts as a forum for determining the dispute. If the Defendant can establish that limb 1 of Spiliada is satisfied, it becomes necessary to consider limb 2. Limb 2 requires a consideration of whether, even if the courts of Cyprus are an available forum that is clearly or distinctly more appropriate for the trial of the action than the courts of England, justice nevertheless requires that a stay of the English proceedings should not be granted.

On availability, there is a bit of to and fro and each other’s Cypriot law legal experts, particularly on the territorial jurisdiction under residual Cypriot rules. However the conclusion [26] is that the Cypriot courts are ‘available’.

Obiter, Richards DJ discusses whether if there is no availability under Cypriot law, there might be availability if there is a submission to jurisdiction and/or an agreement /choice of court.

Discussion here was first whether A26 Brussels Ia could remedy the lack of territorial jurisdiction under Cypriot law. Unlike A25 choice of court, A26 does not include language making the defendant’s domicile in the EU a precondition for its application. At [32] the conclusion for the purpose of these proceedings is that there is a real risk that the Cypriot courts will not have jurisdiction on the basis of A26.

The discussion then [33ff] turns to the Cypriot courts being the clearly or distinctly a more appropriate forum with the conclusion being in the negative.

Helpfully, and suggested by counsel, the judge puts the following structure to the analysis:

a) personal connections ([39]: defendant’s residence in England remains a relevant factor pointing towards the English courts being the appropriate forum);

b) factual connections (held: correspondence between the parties will be of more relevance than the physical location of parties in Cyprus);

c) evidence/convenience/expense (conflicting factors here but none leading overwhelmingly to Cyprus);

d) applicable law (most likely Cypriot law for many of the claims however ia given the similarity with English law, this is not an overwhelmingly relevant issue [56] and some Swiss law will have to be applied anyways); and

e) the “overall shape of the litigation”, held [59] not to be Cypriot.

Limb 2, the requirements of justice, is considered obiter under two angles [61]: delays and the possibility of statutes of limitation kicking in. On the delays, [67] comity and caution to express chauvinistic views upon a friendly jurisdiction argue against a finding of unavailability of justice on this ground, particularly as the experts’ views on this were inconclusive; the possibility of statute of limitation is held [68] largely to be of the claimants’ own making (ia because they had started but discontinued proceedings in Cyprus. Limb 2 therefore, had it mattered, would not have been satisfied and had limb 1 been met, a stay of the proceedings in England would have been ordered.

Geert.

Klifa v Slater. Post Brexit, a forum non challenge (for the courts of France) rejected ia on the basis of costs recovery.

In Klifa v Slater & Anor [2022] EWHC 427 (QB), concerning a ski accident in Courchevel, France, the Claim Form was issued on 14 January 2021, just within the three year limitation period of England and Wales but just after the Brexit “Exit Day” also know as IP day (Brexit implementation day) (of 31 December 2020). Defendants take advantage of that to argue a forum non conveniens defence (which readers will know would have been impossible under Brussels Ia). France is suggested to be the ‘most appropriate forum’.

The skiing accident took place on 27 January 2018 and when (and as still is the case) the Claimant was domiciled and resident and habitually resident in France, the First Defendant was domiciled and resident (they being on holiday) in England & Wales, and the Second Defendant (the insurance company) was domiciled in England & Wales. Under Rome II, French law is the applicable law, other than for procedural law, including as to recovery of legal and other costs of the litigation, which is subject to English law, lex fori.

That latter element returns (with reference to ia Wall v Mutuelle de Poitiers) [25] as part of the forum non conveniens assessment, seeing as (Dagnall M) ‘in consequence of the difference in their methods of adducing expert evidence, the English & Welsh jurisdiction procedural approach is likely to be considerably more expensive than that in France, and which is reflected in the costs rules and approach of each country.’

At [40] Master Dagnall sums up the many issues leading to the case being very ‘French’ in nature, deciding on balance however [42] that the defendants have not met the (high hurdle) of proving that France is “distinctly” or “clearly” the more appropriate forum.

At [44] ff he holds obiter that even if they had met that test, a stay in favour of proceedings in France would not assist with “achieving the ends of justice”L the second part of the forum non test. At [48] two factors are singled out: enforcement will have to take place in England; and a lot of work prior to the claim form being issued was carried out prior to IP day, when forum non was not an issue. Recovering those costs would be impossible in France.

The point has been made ad nauseam by many and this case is a good illustration: post Brexit, forum non is back with a vengeance and it is a time-consuming and costly business.

Geert.

James Finlay business and human rights suit potentially puts forum non conveniens and its Brussels’ cousin to the test.

Update 3 September 2022 In [2022] CSOH 57 on 22 August Lord Braid granted an anti-suit injunction , ordering James Finlay to continue its own attempts at obtaining an anti-suit injunction in the Kenyan courts, aimed at halting the Scots collective proceedings. Lord  Braid referred ia [17] to the seminal Turner v Grovit case, of Brussels Convention fame. [42] James Finlay are found, in seeking and obtaining the Kenyan orders to have been vexatious and oppressive of the group members, whom its conduct was calculated to harass.

Update 3 February 2022 thank you Russell Hopkins for alerting us to the judgment of Lord Weir [2022] CSOH 1, [29] that the suit meets with Scottish collective action /group proceedings rules. Forum non conveniens arguments will be heard later.

I posted the Tweet below in October,  and am posting mostly to report that I do not as yet have more to go by. The suit is against James Finlay and follows in the footsteps of one brought in 2017, pre-Brexit therefore.  The 2017 action per CJEU Owusu v Jackson cannot be subject to a forum non conveniens challenge, and I am as yet not aware of an Article 33-34 Brussels IA ‘forum non light’ defence. This new, 2021 action has already been said to be met with a forum non challenge. It will be interesting to see first of all whether the forum non challenge in the latest suit will be impacted by the unavailability in principle of forum non in the 2017 suit; additionally, whether defendants are aiming to have the 2017 suit thrown out on the basis of A33-34 BIa (so far I have not seen indications that they will).

As I point out in the Tweet, had the UK been allowed to join Lugano, forum non would not be available to this newest suit.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Chapter 7.

The Brazilian orange juice cartel: successful claimants on among others Article 34 Brussels Ia ‘forum non light’, with lingering doubts on A4 ‘domicile’..

Viegas & Ors v Cutrale & Ors [2021] EWHC 2956 (Comm) (05 November 2021) concerns an alleged cartel between several Brazilian companies which produce orange juice, including Sucocítrico Cutrale: 3rd defendant. The other two defendants, Mr Cutrale Sr and Mr Cutrale Jr,  are natural persons Claimants are orange farmers who are all domiciled in Brazil.  The claim relates to alleged antitrust infringements committed in Brazil and said to have restricted competition in markets in Brazil, causing harm to the Claimants there.

Claimants claim to be entitled to maintain proceedings in England and Wales on the bases that:

i)                   although Sucocítrico Cutrale is a Brazilian company, it has its central administration in London and is therefore domiciled in the UK pursuant to A63(1)(b) Brussels Ia;

ii)                 alternatively, the Claimants were entitled to serve Sucocítrico Cutrale, pursuant to CPR 6.3(c)/6.9(2) at a “place within the jurisdiction where [it] carries on its activities; or any place of business of the company within the jurisdiction”.

iii)               Cutrale Snr is domiciled in England; and

iv)               Cutrale Jnr is domiciled in Switzerland and the claims against him are so closely connected with the claims against Sucocítrico Cutrale and Cutrale Snr that it is expedient to hear and determine them together so as to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgments, pursuant to Article 6 Lugano Convention.

The Defendants’ position is in outline as follows:

Sucocítrico Cutrale

i)                   Sucocítrico Cutrale has its “central administration” in Brazil and is therefore not domiciled in the UK for the purpose of A63(1)(b) BIa.  There is therefore no right to bring proceedings against the company in England under Article 4(1). The court must apply common law principles to determine jurisdiction.

ii)                 Alternatively, the claims against Sucocítrico Cutrale should be stayed under A33 and/or 34 BIa because of ongoing proceedings in Brazil concerning the alleged cartel.

iii)               The Claimants were not entitled to serve Sucocítrico Cutrale at an address within the jurisdiction, and so the company has not been validly served.

iv)               Alternatively, applying common law forum non conveniens principles, Brazil is the proper place for the claims against Sucocítrico Cutrale and the court should not exercise jurisdiction against it.  The claims against Sucocítrico Cutrale should be stayed even if (contrary to the Defendants’ primary case) Cutrale Snr is domiciled in England. Cutrale Snr has confirmed that he would submit to the jurisdiction of the Brazilian court. The risk of inconsistent judgments in England and Brazil therefore carries little weight because it would be caused by the Claimants’ unnecessary pursuit of litigation in England. In such circumstances, the court may stay the claims against the foreign defendant notwithstanding the presence of a UK domiciled anchor defendant (reference is made to Vedanta Resources plc v Lungowe [2020] AC 1045 . I flagged the ‘submission to foreign jurisdiction’ issue in my review of Vedanta).

Cutrale Snr

v)                  Cutrale Snr is not domiciled in the UK. There is therefore no right to bring proceedings against him under A4(1) BIa.

vi)               Further or alternatively, the court should stay the claims against Cutrale Snr pursuant to A34 BIa because of the ongoing proceedings in Brazil.

vii)             Although Cutrale Snr was served in the jurisdiction, applying common law forum non conveniens principles Brazil is the proper place for the claim.  Accordingly, the court should decline jurisdiction.

Cutrale Jnr

viii)           If neither Sucocítrico Cutrale nor Cutrale Snr is English domiciled there is no basis to assume jurisdiction against Cutrale Jnr.

ix)               If Cutrale Snr is English domiciled but the claims against Sucocítrico Cutrale are to proceed in Brazil, the criteria under A6 Lugano are not met because it would be more expedient for the claims against Cutrale Jnr to be heard in Brazil alongside the claims against Sucocítrico Cutrale.

x)                  Further or alternatively, the court should stay the claims pursuant to a reflexive application of A28 Lugano Convention because of the ongoing proceedings in Brazil.

Henshaw J held that the court lacks jurisdiction over Sucocítrico Cutrale however that it does have jurisdiction over Cutrale Snr and Cutrale Jnr and  that there is no proper basis on which to stay the claims against them.

Domicile of Sucocítrico Cutrale (‘SuCu’)

A63 BIa determines corporate domicile as the place where the corporation has its (a) statutory seat; (b) central administration; or (c) principal place of business. Claimants suggest place of central administration as being in London. Anglo American came to my mind as indeed it did to counsel and judge in current case. At 31 ff a concise look into the travaux is offered as are references to CJEU case-law under freedom of establishment (including Uberseering). I would be cautious however with too much emphasis on those cases, which are judged in quite a different context to the one in a jurisdictional assessment.

SuCu are in in essence a family-run business [55]. This is also emphasised in the witness statement of Cutrale Sr himself. SuCu refer extensively to its internal by-laws and the role in same for the ‘Executive Board’ which is made up of professionals. However there is also a, by-laws sanctioned, Family Board (in which Cutrale Sr until recently had a 99% stake). The Executive Board, by defendant’s own admission [55], runs the company on a day to day basis. The Family Board seemingly meets at various places worldwide, and the role of London in the family Board’s direction is not small, given that Cutrale Sr has secretarial assistance for his business interests there, and that his daughter (who also sits on the Family Board) conducts all her business interests there [57].

In Anglo American, the CA held

 ‘the correct interpretation of “central administration” in Article 60(1)(b)when applied to a company, is that it is the place where the company concerned, through its relevant organs according to its own constitutional provisions, takes the decisions that are essential for that company’s operations. That is, to my mind, the same thing as saying it is the place where the company, through its relevant organs, conducts its entrepreneurial management; for that management must involve making decisions that are essential for that company’s operation’

[75] ff the judge does not see London as that place where the entrepreneurial management takes place. This is to some degree a factual appraisal however I I am minded to see quite strong arguments in favour of London. I do not think for instance that BIa’s DNA of predictability for the defendant knowing where it might be sued, carries too much weight here seeing as the complex structure and the diverse effective location of the Family Board’s meetings is of its own making. By failing clearly to implement one centre of entrepreneurial management, visible to outsiders, the defendant in my view brings the risk of positive conflicts of jurisdiction upon itself.  All the more so in my view in cases where, such as here, the accusation is involvement in a cartel, which is unlikely to have happened with the firm controller of the Family Board having been kept in the dark.

Alternative serving under CPR 6.9.(2) [“Any place within the jurisdiction where the corporation carries on its activities; or any place of business of the company within the jurisdiction.”] is also dismissed: [104] ff.

[112] ff the judge discusses the domicile of Cutrale Sr which, per A62(1) BIa is to be determined under English law. This [129] ff is held to be England.

Cutrale Jr being undisputably domiciled in Switserland, the question arises whether the claim against him may be anchored upon the claim against his father, per A6(2) Lugano. The judge is reminded of his own judgment in PIS v Al Rajaan. Defendants submit that if the claims against Sucocítrico Cutrale must be pursued in Brazil, it is more expedient for the claims against Cutrale Jnr to be pursued in that jurisdiction, even if the Claimants are entitled to sue Cutrale Snr as of right in England. However [142] the judge agrees with Claimants’ point that somewhat different policy considerations arise when considering the risk of inconsistent judgments within the EU (or between Lugano States), compared to the position vis-à-vis so-called ‘third States’, and that the latter context does not involve the same particular impetus to remove obstacles to the single market and observe the principle of ‘mutual trust’ between the courts of different Member States.

Whilst the claims against Cutrale Jnr are of course connected with those against Sucocitrico, they are also bound to involve important issues in common with the claims against Cutrale Snr which (subject to the issue of an A34 stay, see below) are to be pursued in England  [143].

[144] In conclusion the expediency threshold under A6 Lugano is held to have been reached.

Next, a stay of the proceedings against Cutrale Snr under A34 BIa is rejected [147] ff. Much of the A34 authority, all of which I have discussed on the blog, is flagged. The judge observes the tension between Kolomoisky and EuroEco Fuels (Poland) as to whether the power to stay depends on there being a procedural means by which the two actions could, in fact, be tried together. At [163] the judge thankfully notes the important distinction between A33-34 and A29-30, despite citing A29-30 authority with some emphasis:

I would observe, however, in disagreement with the Defendants, that despite the similarity of language it may well make a difference whether a stay is sought (a) under Article 28 as such or (b) under Article 34 or under Article 28 as applied reflexively vis a vis proceedings in a third country (see § 238 below).  The observation quoted above that there might be a presumption in favour of a stay seems considerably easier to justify in a case where the intra-EU internal market considerations referred to in § 142 above apply than where the overseas proceedings are in a non-Member State.  On the contrary, a presumption of a stay in favour of a third country state of proceedings prima facie brought as a right against a defendant in his place of domicile may well be hard to square with the fundamental principles underlying the Brussels and Lugano regimes.

At [221], too, and in an in my view important and marked departure from Justice Turner in Municipio, Henshaw J here holds that

whilst recital 24 indicates that the court should consider all the circumstances of the case, it does not follow that the court can grant a stay pursuant to Article 34 which is in substance no more than a forum non conveniens stay.  It follows that the factors listed in § 213.iv) above are relevant only insofar as they support the granting of a stay based on the Favero and Costa claims as related claims.

This puts the horse back before the cart.

At [164] ff the ‘rival’ Brasil claims are discussed, [197] of which only two predate the current E&W claim against Cutrale Sr and a conclusion [210] that these are related in a broad sense to the present claims, but that degree of relationship would be insufficient to make it expedient to stay the present claims by reference to them.

[213] ff the various arguments that a stay would be in the ‘interest of justice’ are rejected: these include in particular [216] suggestions of consolidation or joint case management, whilst theoretically possible, are unrealistic in practice (reference is made ia to the fact that none of the current Brazilian claims have been consolidated); [217] neither rival claim is likely to reach a conclusion in the reasonably foreseeable future: on the contrary, both have been mired in procedural disputes for many years.

Similar arguments are made obiter when considering an A33-34 stay against Sucocitrico (in the event the A4 analysis, above, were to be wrong): [241] ff.

At 237, the possibility of a stay of the proceedings against Cutrale Jr, under a reflexive application of A28 Lugano is rejected with mere reference to the reasons listed viz the A34 stay. The judge has to follow the Court of Appeal’s finding in Kolomoisky, that reflexive application of A28 Lugano is possible. Clearly, I submit, it is not and this will be an important point to clarify when and if the UK accede to Lugano.

The judge concludes [249] ff by obiter upholding a forum non stay. His arguments here are interesting among others for they lead to a different result than the A33-34 application – which serves to confirm the very different nature of both mechanisms.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.15.3.

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