Napag Trading v Gedi. A right Italian tussle on libel over the internet, leads to jurisdictional dismissal on good arguable case grounds.

Napag Trading Ltd & Ors v Gedi Gruppo Editoriale SPA & Anor [2020] EWHC 3034 (QB) engages (and refers to) the issues I previously reported on in inter alia Bolagsupplysningen, Saïd v L’Express,

It is worthwhile to list both claimants and defendants.

On the claimants side, Napag Trading Limited (“the First Claimant”) is an English-domiciled company. Napag Italia Srl (“the Third Claimant”) is an Italian-domiciled subsidiary of the First Claimant. Sgr Francesco Mazzagatti (“the Second Claimant”), an Italian national with his main residence in Dubai, is the CEO and sole director of, and 95% shareholder in, the First Claimant. The First Claimant trades, and the Third Claimant has traded, in petroleum-based products.

On the defendants side, Gedi Gruppo Editoriale S.p.A. (“the First Defendant”) is the publisher amongst other things of L’Espresso which is a weekly Italian-language political and cultural magazine available both in print and online in England and Wales. Società Editoriale Il Fatto S.p.A. (“the Second Defendant”) is the publisher of Il Fatto Quotidiano (“Il Fatto”), a daily Italian-language newspaper published in England and Wales only on the internet.

An earlier Brexit-anticipatory forum non conveniens challenge was waived away by Jay J at 7: ‘Only the Second Defendant saw fit to raise a forum non conveniens challenge in advance of 1st January 2021 and the relevant EU regulation no longer applying. I would have been very reluctant to rule on this sort of application on an anticipatory basis.’

Identifying a centre of interest in England and Wales, leading to full jurisdiction there for damages, per CJEU e-Date and Bolagsupplysningen and also a precondition to apply for injunctive relief (see also Bolagsupplysningen: only courts with full jurisdiction may issue such relief) is of course a factual assessment.

The Second Claimant is an entrepreneur, born in Calabria but now living in Dubai. He founded the Third Claimant in 2012. Initially, it traded in oil and petroleum products from offices in Rome. The Third Claimant dealt in particular with the Italian oil company Eni S.p.A. (“Eni”), headquartered in Rome and in part state-owned, and Eni Trading & Shipping S.p.A. (“Ets”) which is based in Rome and has a branch in London. Second Claimant incorporated the First Claimant in April 2018. His evidence is that London was a better base from which to conduct and grow his business because he was encountering resistance from some banks and financial institutions who were diffident about working with an Italian company. More specifically, the strategy was to hive off the Third Claimant’s oil and gas business into the First Claimant, and the former would devote itself to trading in petrochemicals. Additionally, the idea was to invest in an “upstream” development in the UK Continental shelf, and the first discussions about this were in November 2018.

Justice Jay revisits the CJEU’s instructions re centre of interests for natural persons per e-Date. At 29:

First, other things being equal, and certainly in the absence of evidence to the contrary, a natural person’s “centre of interests” will match his or her habitual residence. Whether or not this may accurately be described as an evidential presumption does not I think matter (in my view, no legal presumption is generated); in any case, the CJEU – subject to my second point – is not purporting to assist national courts as to the rules of law that should govern the exercise of ascertainment. Secondly, general considerations of predictability and the need for clarity militate in favour of straightforward and readily accessible criteria rather than any microscopic examination of the detail.

At 32 follows an interesting discussion of para 43 of the CJEU Bolagsupplysningen judgment

“43. It is also appropriate to point out that, in circumstances where it is not clear from the evidence that the court must consider at the stage when it assesses whether it has jurisdiction that the economic activity of the relevant legal person is carried out mainly in a certain member state, so that the centre of interests of the legal person which is claiming to be the victim of an infringement of its personality rights cannot be identified, that person cannot benefit from the right to sue the alleged perpetrator of the infringement pursuant to article 7(2) of Regulation No 1215/2012 for the entirety of the compensation on the basis of the place where the damage occurred.”

After a reference to what Justice Jay calls Bobek AG’s ‘masterly opinion’, in particular the burden of proof issues are discussed which Jay J justifiably holds are not within the scope of Brussels Ia (not at least in the sense of deciding the procedural moment at which proof must be furnished). I agree with his finding that the CJEU’s meaning of para 43 is simply that

in the event that the national court concluded that it could not identify the “centre of interests” because the evidence was unclear, article 7(2) of the RBR could not avail the claimant.

Conclusion of the factual consideration follows (probably obiter: see 150) at 161: first Claimant has the better of the argument that its “centre of interests” is in England and Wales.

Jay J then discusses at 35 ff that whether there actually is damage within E&W as a matter of domestic law to decide to good arguable case standard, that the case may go ahead. That discussion shows that  the actual concept of ‘damage’ within the meaning of Brussels Ia and indeed Rome II is not quite so established as might be hoped, and it is held at 141 that no serious damage has occurred within E&W for there to be jurisdiction.

The case is a good illustration of the hurdle which national rules of civil procedure continue to form despite jurisdictional harmonisation under EU private international law rules.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2.

Third ed. forthcoming February 2021.

 

Qatar Airways v Middle East News (Al Arabiya). On forum non and determining lex causae for malicious falsehood and locus damni for conspiracy.

Forum non conveniens featured not just in Municipio de Mariana at the High Court yesterday but also in Qatar Airways Group QCSC v Middle East News FZ LLC & Ors [2020] EWHC 2975 (QB).

Twenty Essex have good summary of the background and decision. Context is of course the blockade on Qatar, led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Qatar Airways Group (QAG) sue on the basis of tort, triggered by a rather chilling clip aired by Al Arabiya which amounted to a veiled threat against the airline.

Saini J at 27 notes what Turner J also noted in Municipio de Mariana and what Briggs LJ looked at in horror in Vedanta, namely the spiralling volume and consequential costs in bringing and defending a jurisdictional challenge. (Although at least for Vedanta and Municipio de Mariana the issues discussed are matters of principle, which may eventually settle once SC (and indeed CJEU) authority is clear).

The judgment recalls some principles of international aviation law under the Chicago Convention (with noted and utterly justifiable reference a 77 ff to an article on the opiniojuris blog by prof Heller) which is important here because (at 61) it is the starting point of QAG’s case that anyone who had taken steps to inform themselves of the legal position would have known that contrary to what (it argues) is the message of the Video, there was no real risk of any internationally legitimate interception, still less legitimate shooting at or down, of a QAG scheduled service in flight along one of the defined air corridors. At 88 Saini J concludes on that issue that there is an arguable case as to meaning and falsity.

On good arguable case, reference is to Kaefer v AMS, Goldman Sachs v Novo Banco, and Brownlie.

At 164 ff the judge discusses the issue of pleading foreign law at the jurisdictional threshold of making a good arguable case. Here, Saini J holds on the basis of the assumption that malicious falsehood is not covered by Rome II, which is the higher threshold for the purposes of establishing jurisdiction. He does suggest that it is likely that in fact malicious falsehood is covered by Rome II and not by the exception for infringement of personality rights (at 166: ‘Malicious falsehood is not a claim for defamation, and what is sought to be protected is not Qatar Airways’ reputation or privacy rights, but its economic interests’).

As for applicable law for conspiracy, that is clearly within the scope of Rome II and poses the difficulty of determining locus damni in a case of purely economic loss. Here, at 169 Saini J suggests preliminarily that parties agreed “damage” for the purposes of Article 4(1) of Rome II to have been suffered in the place where the third parties (that is, potential passengers) failed to enter into contracts with QAG (which they otherwise would have done) as a result of the video. Location of purely economic damage under Rome II as indeed it is under Brussel Ia is however not settled and I doubt it is as simple as locating it in the place of putative (passenger) contract formation.

Of long-term impact is the judge’s finding that for jurisdictional threshold purposes, he is content for claimant to proceed with a worldwide claim for tort on the basis of any foreign law that might be applicable having the same content as English law. 

Of note in the forum non analysis is that not just the obvious alternative of the UAE was not good forum, but neither would the DIFC be. At 374:’the UAE is not an appropriate forum is what I would broadly call “access to justice” considerations in what has clearly become a “hostile environment” for Qataris in the UAE.’ And at 379, re the DIFC: ‘The DIFC courts are a sort of “litigation island” within the UAE, created to attract legal business by their perceived superior neutrality, and higher quality, compared to the local courts. But as such, they have no superiority compared to the English courts, also a neutral forum. The English courts have the other connections to the case, which the DIFC courts do not.’

Geert.

 

 

Shenzen Senior Technology Material v Celgard. On Rome II’s rule applicable law rule for unfair competition, distinguishing ‘direct’ from ‘indirect’ damage, and the Trade Secrets Directive.

Shenzhen Senior Technology Material Co Ltd v Celgard, LLC [2020] EWCA Civ 1293 concerns an appeal against service out of jurisdiction (the judgment appealed is [2020] EWHC 2072 (Ch)). Celgard allege that the importation and marketing by Senior of battery separator film involves the misuse of Celgard’s trade secrets.

Senior (of China) contend that the judge fell into error in concluding, first, that Celgard (incorporated in Delaware) had established a serious issue to be tried (here part of the jurisdictional threshold) assuming that English law applies to its claims and, secondly, that England is the proper forum to try the claims. As to the latter the core argument is that in limiting its claims to remedies in respect of acts in the UK, Celgard could not establish the requisite degree of connection to England. As for the former, they argue the law applicable to Celgard’s claims is Chinese law, which would count against jurisdiction.

Strategically, Celgard’s case against Senior is not based on breach of the NDA applicable between Celgard and one of its former employees,  Dr Zhang who, when he left Celgard, told its then COO that he was going to work for General Electric in California, which does not compete with Celgard in the field of battery separators. It later transpired that he had in fact joined Senior in China, where he was using the false name “Bin Wang”. This element of the facts triggers the question whether Senior is liable for the acts of another, even if that other is its employee.

The Celgard – Zhang NDA is governed by the law of South Carolina, application of which would also have triggered A4(3)(b) or (c) of the Trade Secrets Directive 2016/943. Celgard do rely on the NDA as supporting its case that the trade secrets were confidential. Rather Celgard claim that Senior’s employee acted in breach of an equitable obligation. This engages Rome II,  specifically Article 6(2) because Celgard’s claims are concerned with an act of unfair competition affecting exclusively the interests of a specific competitor, namely Celgard. In such circumstances, Article 6(2) provides that “Article 4 shall apply”.

Of note is that this is one of those cases that show that Rome II applies to more than just tortious obligations: as Arnold LJ notes at 51, as a matter of English law, claims for breach of equitable obligations of confidence are not claims in tort.

Celgard’s case, accepted by Trowe J at the High Court, is that A4(1) leads to English law because the ‘direct damage’ (per Rome II and CJEU Lazard indirect damage needs to be ignored) caused by the wrongdoing it complains of has occurred (and will, if not restrained, continue to occur) in the UK, that being the country into which the infringing goods (namely the shipment to the UK Customer and any future shipments of the same separator) have been (and will be) imported, causing damage to Celgard’s market here.

Senior’s case is that confidential information is intangible property and that damage to intangible property is located at the time and place it became irreversible (support is sought in extracts from Andrew Dickinson’s Rome II volume with OUP). At 58 ff Arnold LJ gives 7 reasons for rejecting the position. I will not repeat them all here. Of note is not just the (most justifiable) heavy leaning on the travaux but also the support sought in secondary EU law different from private international law (such as the Trade Secrets Directive 2016/943) as well as in the consistency between Brussels Ia and the Rome Regulations [on which Szpunar AG has written excellently in Burkhard Hess and Koen Lenaerts (eds.), The 50th Anniversary of the European Law of Civil Procedure]. This is not an easy proposition however given the lack of detail in Rome I and the need for autonomous EU interpretation, understandable.

The Trade Secrets Directive is further discussed at 65 ff for in A4(5) it makes importation of infringing goods an unlawful use of a trade secret “where the person carrying out such activities knew, or ought, under the circumstances, to have known that the trade secret was used unlawfully within the meaning of paragraph 3”. One of the possibilities embraced by paragraph 3 is (a), the person “having acquired the trade secret unlawfully”. Arnold LJ then asks: what law is to be applied to determine whether it was acquired “unlawfully”? Is A4(5) read together with A4(3)(a) an implicit choice of law rule pointing to the law of the place where the trade secret was acquired? Arnold LJ suggests this is not acte clair and may need CJEU clarification however not at this stage for his provisional view (with an eye on the jurisdictional threshold test) is that the Directive is not an implicit choice of law rule and that per Rome II, English law applies.

Plenty applicable law issues to discuss at the merits stage.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 4, Heading 4.6.2. Third ed. forthcoming February 2021.

 

 

Forum non and infringing copyright in the air: The Performing Rights Society v Qatar Airways.

Performing Right Society Ltd v Qatar Airways Group QCS [2020] EWHC 1872 (Ch) concerns the infringement or not of copyright via Qatar Airways’ inflight entertainment system known as “Oryx One”. Holding on an application for a stay on grounds of forum non conveniens or alternatively on case management grounds, Birss J on Friday first of all noted the relevance of Lucasfilm Limited v Ainsworth [2011] UKSC 39 that the English court can have jurisdiction over claims for infringement of copyright by non-UK acts and under non-UK law where there is a basis for in personam jurisdiction. Which there is because of the presence of the aircraft on the ground or in the territorial airspace of the UK – the airline was served at the London address of the UK branch (defendant, QATAR Airways Group Q.C.S.C. is not domiciled in the UK, I gather). Lucasfilm did not itself deal with forum non.

I flag this case for Birss J gives a good summary of the approach to forum non, building of course on Spiliada but also with reference to Vedanta, Okpabi etc., all reviewed on the blog. Note at 16-17 claimant’s and defendant’s alternative formulations of the Stage 1 cq 2 tests following Spiliada.

The defendant has summarised the test in Spiliada as follows:

“(1) Is there another available forum which is clearly and distinctly the natural forum, that is to say, the “forum with which the action has the most real and substantial connection”?

(2) If there is, is England nevertheless the appropriate forum, in particular because the court is not satisfied that substantial justice will be done in the alternative available forum?”

At: claimant’s rival formulation is:

“Stage 1: Qatar Airways bears the burden of satisfying the Court that the Qatari court is an available forum with competent jurisdiction to determine PRS’s claim and is clearly or distinctly a more appropriate forum than England for the trial of the issues. If it fails to satisfy the Court of these matters, a stay should be refused.

Stage 2: If the Court determines that the Qatari court is prima facie more appropriate, it must nevertheless refuse to grant a stay if PRS demonstrate that, in all the circumstances of the case, it would be unjust for it to be deprived of the right to trial in England.”

The distinctions may seem trivial. However they relate to, firstly, burden of proof and secondly, which factors need to be considered in which stage (and therefore, proven by whom). In particular, it is suggested that issues such as the location of witnesses arose at the first stage yet that at least aspects of the points which were debated about expert witnesses (of foreign law) arose at the second stage not the first.

Birss J ends up summarising Stage 1 as entailing the following headings:

i) the personal connections the parties have to the countries in question; ii) factual connections which the events relevant to the claim have with the countries; iii) applicable law; iv) factors affecting convenience or expense such as the location of witnesses or documents.

I will leave readers to digest the arguments under the various headings themselves, Birss J concludes that Qatar is not clearly a more appropriate forum and does not therefore consider Stage 2.

Readers will remember that the CJEU in Owusu objected to forum non on the basis of its unpredictability. Now, I am not one for arguing that following Spiliada and Vedanta, and given the authority rule to which common lawyers and judges are attuned, forum non be unpredictable. Neither can one posit however, seeing the intensity of the discussion here and in many other cases, that it is an entirely clear exercise.

Geert.

 

 

 

 

MB, Services Ltd and Golovina v Rusal. Forum non and Spiliada in Jersey. Stay granted largely on basis of attorney intimidation.

A quick note on MB and Services Limited and Golovina v United Company Rusal Plc [2020] JRC034 in which Birt C rejected an application for a stay on forum non conveniens grounds. He applied Spiliada of course,  with at 139 the reasons for holding on balance that there is a real risk that claimants will not obtain justice in Russia. Note at 7 the specific weight attached to the intimidation of claimants’ attorney in Russia.

Geert.

 

Fletcher v Estee Lauder and Clinique. New York judge rejects forum non argument in asbestos litigation. Sheds an interesting light on the perception of England as a forum for non-occupational exposure.

Personal injury cases never make for light reading and Fletcher v Estee Lauder and Clinique is not an exception to that rule. Mrs Fletcher, aged 45, claims that her lifelong  use of the Estee Lauder talc and face powder and Clinique loose face powder, starting with puffs of powder purchased by her mother in New York in 1976, followed by regular purchases in the city in later years, caused her to develop mesothelioma.

Thank you Leigh Day, who represent Mrs Fletcher, for reporting on the case. In a preliminary ruling, Justice Mendez rejected a forum non conveniens argument made by the cosmetics giants, who had argued that England is a more natural and suitable forum for the case.

The case is interesting for my readers who follow my reports in the ‘comparative’ binder, for it is not that routine for judges to list arguments against the suitability of England as a forum.

Arguments made pro forum non are on p.2, claimant’s arguments on p.3, and Mendez J’s criteria to dismiss (having earlier established per authority that the burden of proof to dismiss is necessarily high for defendants with a substantial presence in New York) on p.5. Note his reference to the absence of no win no fee (and claimant’s limited resources); absence of jury trial; limited and expensive discovery; and a general hesitation of the legal profession in bringing cases like these (non-occupational exposure claims) against manufacturers.

Most relevant and interesting.

Geert.

 

Jurisdiction for trademark infringement and passing off. Easygroup v Easyfly and ATR Aircraft

In [2020] EWHC 40 (Ch) Easygroup v Easyfly and ATR Aircraft the issue is the jurisdiction of the English court to hear claims of trade mark infringement, passing off and conspiracy against a Colombian domestic airline, its founder and chief executive, and a French aircraft manufacturer. As always the blog’s interest is not in the substantive issues concerning trademark and passing off, they do however make for interesting reading.

Nugee J considers the jurisdictional issues at 26 ff with respect to the first two defendants and with respect to the French defendant, in para 127 ff. Here the relationship between the EU Trade Mark Regulation 2017/1001 and Brussels Ia comes to the fore. (I continue to find my colleague Marie-Christine Janssens’ 2010 paper most informative on the issues; see also the link to Tobias Lutzi’s analysis of AMS Neve in my report of same). The relevant provisions of the Regulation (previously included in Regulation 207/2009, applied ia in CJEU AMS Neve), read

Article 125. International jurisdiction
1. Subject to the provisions of this Regulation as well as to any provisions of Regulation (EU) No 1215/2012 applicable by virtue of Article 122, proceedings in respect of the actions and claims referred to in Article 124 shall be brought in the courts of the Member State in which the defendant is domiciled or, if he is not domiciled in any of the Member States, in which he has an establishment.
2. If the defendant is neither domiciled nor has an establishment in any of the Member States, such proceedings shall be brought in the courts of the Member State in which the plaintiff is domiciled or, if he is not domiciled in any of the Member States, in which he has an establishment.

3. If neither the defendant nor the plaintiff is so domiciled or has such an establishment, such proceedings shall be brought in the courts of the Member State where the Office has its seat.

4. Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraphs 1, 2 and 3:

(a) Article 25 of Regulation (EU) No 1215/2012 shall apply if the parties agree that a different EU trade mark court shall have jurisdiction;

(b) Article 26 of Regulation (EU) No 1215/2012 shall apply if the defendant enters an appearance before a different EU trade mark court.

5. Proceedings in respect of the actions and claims referred to in Article 124, with the exception of actions for a declaration of non-infringement of an EU trade mark, may also be brought in the courts of the Member State in which the act of infringement has been committed or threatened, or in which an act referred to in Article 11(2) has been committed.

 

Article 126. Extent of jurisdiction
1. An EU trade mark court whose jurisdiction is based on Article 125(1) to (4) shall have jurisdiction in respect of:

(a) acts of infringement committed or threatened within the territory of any of the Member States;

(b) acts referred to in Article 11(2) committed within the territory of any of the Member States.

2. An EU trade mark court whose jurisdiction is based on Article 125(5) shall have jurisdiction only in respect of acts committed or threatened within the territory of the Member State in which that court is situated.

 

The first two defendants are not based in the EU. Here, Article 125(2) grants jurisdiction to the UK courts.

Controversially, at 36 Nugee J applies a forum non conveniens test. It is disputed whether this is at all possible in the Trademark Regulation. He decides England clearly is the appropriate forum: ‘there is no other court that can try the UK trade mark claims, and for the reasons just given [French and  Spanish courts might have partial jurisdiction, GAVC] no other court that can grant pan-EU relief in respect of the EU trade mark claims.’

At 37 ff Nugee J then also still considers with reference ia to CJEU Pammer and the discussions on ‘accessibility’ (see also ia Football Dataco) whether there is a ‘serious issue to be tried’ and answers in the affirmative. Here I am assuming this must be seen as part of case-management rather than a jurisdictional test (viz Article 8(1) BIa’s anchor defendant mechanism, a ‘serious issue to be tried’ test is said to be part of the ‘related cases’ analysis; see related discussions ia in Privatbank), unless he reformulates the application of Article 126 as a ‘serious issue to be tried’ test – the structure of the judgment is leaving me confused.

Eventually however the previous Order made by the High Court, granting permission to serve out of jurisdiction, is set aside by Nugee J on grounds of lack of full and frank disclosure at the service hearing – an issue less exciting for this blog however dramatic nevertheless.

The French defendant (who issued a relevant press release (only 11 copies of which were distributed at the Farnborough airshow; this was found to be de minimis; not as such a mechanism available under the EUTMR I don’t think; but it might be under case management) and was also responsible for organising (ia by having the logo painted) the offending branding in France), at the jurisdictional level is dealt with in para 127 ff., first with respect to the trademark claim.

‘By art. 125(1) the default position is that the proceedings shall be brought in the courts of the Member State where the defendant is domiciled: in ATR’s case this is France. Neither art. 125(2) nor art. 125(3) applies to ATR because each only applies if the defendant is neither domiciled nor has an establishment in a Member State. Art. 125(4) does not apply as it is not suggested that ATR has either (a) agreed that the English court should have jurisdiction, or (b) entered an appearance before the English court. That leaves art. 125(5) under which proceedings may also be brought in the courts of the Member State in which the act of infringement has been committed or threatened. In the present case that would also be France (and possibly Spain). It follows that none of the provisions of art. 125 confer jurisdiction on the English court to hear actions based on acts of infringement said to have been carried out by ATR in France and Spain.’

Counsel for EasyGroup accepted ia per AMS Neve that the Trademark Regulation is lex specialis vis-à-vis Brussels Ia but that nevertheless the general spirit of BIa should blow over Regulation 2017/1001. They refer at 130 to the ‘general desirability of avoiding duplicative proceedings and the risk of inconsistent judgments (as exemplified by arts 29 and 30 of Brussels I Recast),’ and argue that ‘it followed that once the English court had jurisdiction over the Defendants for the acts taking place in France (as it undoubtedly did under art. 125(2)), then it must also have jurisdiction over anyone else alleged to be jointly liable for the same acts of infringement.’

This therefore is a makeshift joinder mechanism which Nugee J was not impressed with. He pointed to the possibility under A125(5) to sue the other defendants and the French defendants in one jurisdiction, namely France. An A7(2) BIa action is not possible: A122(2)(a) EUTMR expressly provides that in proceedings based on A124, A7(2) BIa does not apply.

Finally, a claim in conspiracy against the French defendant is not covered by the EUTMR and instead by A7(2) BIa, discussed at 142 ff with reference to (Lugano) authority [2018] UKSC 19, which I discussed here. Locus delicti commissi, Nugee J finds, is not in England: no conspiratorial agreement between ATR and the Defendants in relation to the branding of the aircraft took place in England. At 145: ‘the Heads of Agreement, and Sale and Purchase Agreement, were each signed in France and Colombia, and there is nothing that can be pointed to as constituting the making of any agreement in England.’

As for locus damni, at 148 Nugee J holds this not to have been or potentially be in England:

‘The foundation of easyGroup’s claims in relation to the branding of the aircraft is that once painted they were flown on test flights, and en route to Colombia, in full view of the public. But the public which might have viewed the planes were the public in France and Spain, not the public in the UK. That might amount to a dilution in the brand in the eyes of the French and Spanish public, but it is difficult to see how it could affect the brand in the eyes of the UK public, or otherwise cause easyGroup to sustain loss in the UK. Mr Bloch said that if such a plane crashed, the news would not stop at the Channel and it might adversely affect easyGroup’s reputation in the UK, but no such damage has in fact occurred, and it seems to me far too speculative to say that it may occur. As already referred to, Mr Bloch also relied on easyGroup having suffered damage on the user principle (paragraph 82 above), but it seems to me that damages awarded on this basis would be damages for the loss of an opportunity to exploit easyGroup’s marks by licensing them to be used in France and Spain, and that for the purposes of the first limb of art. 7(2) such damage would therefore be suffered in France and Spain as that is where the relevant exploitation of the asset would otherwise take place.’

This last element (place where the relevant exploitation of the asset would otherwise take place) is interesting to me in Universal Music (purely economic loss) terms and not without discussion, I imagine.

Conclusions, at 152:

(1) There is a serious issue to be tried in relation to each of the claims now sought to be brought by easyGroup against the non-EU defendants.

(2) There was however a failure to make full, frank and fair disclosure at the service out of jurisdiction hearing, and in the circumstances that Order should be set aside.

(3) The question of amending to bring claims against the French defendant. But if it had, Nugee J would have held that there was no jurisdiction for the English court to hear the claims based on the acts in France (or Spain), whether based on trade mark infringement or conspiracy. There is jurisdiction to hear the claims based on the issue of the Press Release in the UK, but Nugee J would have refused permission to amend to bring such claims on the basis that they were de minimis.

A most interesting and thought provoking judgment.

Geert.

 

 

 

Jalla and others v Shell. High Court upholds mother holding jurisdiction, no stay granted on the basis of Brussels Ia’s Article 34 forum non conveniens-light.

Update 3 December 2020 see for an interim case-management decision on the issues under appeal here.

Update 18 August 2020 for subsequent procedural judgment unrelated to jurisdiction see [2020] EWHC 2211 (TCC).

England remains a jurisdiction of choice for corporate social responsibility /CSR litigation, in recent parlour often referred to as corporate (human and other rights due diligence. Jalla & Ors v Royal Dutch Shell Plc & Ors [2020] EWHC 459 (TCC) concerns a December 2011 oil spill which claimants allege companies forming part of the Shell group are responsible for. Anchor defendant in the UK is Shell International Trading and Shipping Company Limited – STASCO.

Stuart-Smith J on Tuesday last week upheld jurisdiction against the London-based mother holding on the basis of Article 4 Brussels Ia, and rejected an application for stay on Article 34 grounds. The judgment is lengthy, the issues highly relevant: this post therefore will be somewhat more extensive than usual.

Standard applications in cases like these now take the form of opposing jurisdiction against UK based defendants using Article 34 Brussels Ia (forum non conveniens -light; readers will remember the issues from ia Privatbank (cited by Stuart-Smith J) and other A34 postings on the blog); alternatively, resisting the case go to full trial on the basis that there is no real issue to be tried; abuse of process arguments (against such defendants: based on EU law); and case-management grounds. The latter two are of course disputed following Owusu. And against non-UK (indeed non-EU based defendants), using forum non conveniens; abuse of process; case-management and no real issue to be tried.

[A further application at issue is to amend form claims to ‘correct’ defendant companies, an application which is subject to limitation periods that are disputed at length in the case at issue. This is civil procedure /CPR territory which is less the subject of this blog].

The jurisdiction challenges are what interests us here and these discussions start at 207. The discussion kicks of with core instructions for ‘Founding jurisdiction’ in principle: the five step ladder expressed by Lord Briggs in Vedanta – which of course confusingly include many echoes of forum non as well as Article 34 analysis. Claimant must demonstrate:

(i) that the claims against the anchor defendant involve a real issue to be tried;

(ii) if so, that it is reasonable for the court to try that issue;

(iii) that the foreign defendant is a necessary or proper party to the claims against the anchor defendant;

(iv) that the claims against the foreign defendant have a real prospect of success; and

(v) that, either, England is the proper place in which to bring the combined claims or that there is a real risk that the claimants will not obtain substantial justice in the alternative foreign jurisdiction, even if it would otherwise have been the proper place, or the convenient or natural forum.

For the purposes of current application, Stuart-Smith J focuses on i, ii, and v:

  • When considering whether there is “a real issue to be tried” the test to be applied is effectively the same as the test for summary judgment: reference here is made to Okpabi. It may be important to point out that the ‘real issue to be tried’ test must not be confused as a negation of Owusu. The test effectively has a gatekeeping purpose, not unlike the similar test in e.g The Netherlands as shown in Kiobel.
  • The second condition, reasonableness to try the real issue, Stuart-Smith J concedes that this condition has been heavily debated for it is not entirely clear. He links the condition to the anchor jurisdiction issue: for Stuart-Smith J, the fact that the anchor defendant is sued for the sole or predominant purpose of bringing the foreign defendant into the action within the jurisdiction is not fatal to an application to serve the foreign defendant out of the jurisdiction. He seems to suggest therefore a light reading of the reasonableness requirement and emphasises (at 215) as Lord Briggs had done in Vedanta, that per C-281/02 Owusu, the effect of the mandatory terms of A4(1) BIa is that jurisdiction that is vested in the English Court by the article may not be challenged on arguments which in other circumstances would be forum non conveniens grounds. (This reinforces his flexible reading of the reasonableness requirement).
  • On the fifth condition, Stuart-Smith J at 217 focuses on the scenario of an A4 defendant likely to continue being sued regardless of the English PIL decision (forum non in particular) viz the non-EU defendants (an issue which was quite important in Vedanta, where no A34 arguments were raised). If that is indeed likely then in his view this must have an impact on how the court considers the application of the English rules.

As noted Stuart-Smith J lists these arguments as ‘founding jurisdiction’ and at 227 finds there is a real issue to be tried: a reliable conclusion in the other direction (that STASCO had not retained legal responsibility for the operation of the Northia) cannot be found at this jurisdictional stage.

The Abuse of EU law argument is given short, one para (at 218) shrift, with reference to Lord Briggs in Vedanta (who focused on Article 8(1) CJEU authority for there is little precedent on abuse of EU law).

Turning then to the pièce de résistance: Article 34.  Readers of the blog will have followed my regular reporting on same.

Stuart-Smith’s first discusses authority in abstracto, and his points are as follows:

  • BIa’s section 9, ‘lis pendens – related actions’, harbours two twins. At 222: ‘Articles 29 and 33 apply where proceedings in different jurisdictions involve the same cause of action and are between the same parties. Articles 30 and 34 apply where proceedings in different jurisdictions are “related” without satisfying the additional prerequisites for the application of Articles 29 and 33 (i.e. the same cause of action and between the same parties).‘ The twins are of course not identical: in each set, one involves action ex-EU, the other looks to intra-EU scenarios.
  • Zooming in on the A30-34 twin: A30 defines ‘related’ and A34 does not. Under A30(3), actions are related where they are “so closely connected that it is expedient to hear and determine them together to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgments resulting from different proceedings.” (at 222) under A34(1)a, the discretion to stay an action under that article does not arise unless “it is expedient to hear and determine the related actions to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgment resulting from separate proceedings”. Semantically one might suggest the latter therefore is a subset of the former (which would also suggest not all actions that are ‘related’ under A30 are so under A34). Stuart-Smith J however proposes to focus on the commonality of both, which is the presence of expediency, ‘to hear and determine them together to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgments resulting from <different: A30> <seperate: A34’ proceedings. Again at 222: ‘Although there is a semantic argument that this means that cases falling within Article 34(1)(a) are a subset of “related actions”, I cannot conceive of circumstances where this would matter: the expediency criterion is a pre-requisite for the exercise of the court’s discretion both under Article 29 and under Article 34.’
  • At 223 then follows the discussion of “risk of irreconcilable judgments”. ‘Because Articles 30 and 34 do not require the proceedings to involve the same cause of action and to be between the same parties, it is plain that the “risk of irreconcilable judgments” to which Articles 30(3) and 34(1)(a) refer cannot require that there be a risk that one judgment may give rise to an issue estoppel affecting the other.’ In other words, the test of irreconcilability is suggested to be more easily met in A30 (and 34) then it is under A29 (and 33). Nevertheless, with reference to Donaldson DJ in Zavarco, Stuart-Smith J suggests the points of difference between the judgments (whether arising from findings of fact or of law) would have to “form an essential part of the basis of the judgments” before A30 or 34 may be engaged.
  • At 225 he then refers to Privatbank, held by the Court of Appeal after proceedings in Jalla had been closed, in which the Court of Appeal held that the fact that actions could not be consolidated and heard together (much as of course such togetherness cannot be imposed upon the foreign courts) is relevant to the exercise of the Court’s discretion and, in the absence of some strong countervailing factor, will be a compelling reason for refusing a stay. At 246, that importance of the impossibility of consolidated hearings is re-emphasised.

At 228 then Stuart-Smith J arrives at the application in concretoHe starts with the defendants’ arguments: ‘In their written submissions the Defendants rely upon a number of claims brought by groups of claimants or communities before various courts in Nigeria and one action of rather different complexion, known as the Federal Enforcement Action [“FEA”]. They submit that the English proceedings against STASCO should be stayed, at least temporarily, in order to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgments being reached in England and in one or more of the Nigerian proceedings by waiting for the determinations of the Nigerian Courts and then taking proper account of those determinations in disposing of the English proceedings. The Defendants submit that, by the imposition of a stay, the court would avoid “a course of conflict with the courts of a friendly state” and avoid “cutting across executive actions of the Nigerian State in relation to property situated within its territory” which the Defendants submit would be in breach of the act of state doctrine and considerations of comity.‘ He then proceeds to discuss the arguments:

  • Firstly he discusses at length the status of the FEA (which counsel for the defendants focused on) as well as a number of other actions pending in the Nigerian courts.
  • Of note is his observation at 234: ‘It is a fact material to the exercise of the court’s discretion on these applications that the Defendants in these proceedings rely upon the existence of the FEA as grounds for imposing a stay pursuant to Article 34 while at the same time SNEPCO is maintaining its root and branch opposition to the validity (as well as the factual merits) of the FEA.’
  • At 237 he notes the not carbon copy but nevertheless overlap between proceedings, at the level of claimants, defendants, and facts, but not the allegations of negligence and Rylands v Fletcher which are not directed at STASCO in the FEA proceedings. Of note is that he adds in fine that the potential problem of double recovery is simply an issue with which the English and Nigerian courts may have to grapple in due course.
  • At 241 he holds obiter that expediency is not met here for a stay would not reduce the risk of irreconcilable judgments. Here, the true nature of forum non (I realise of course A34 is only forum non light) re-emerges: the English proceedings will continue after the stay in all likelihood will have been lifted (there will continue to be a case to answer for STASCO). ‘(A)lthough the English court would afford due attention and respect to the findings of the Nigerian courts, the findings of the Nigerian courts in the FEA and the other actions would not bind the English court to make equivalent findings even on the most basic matters such as whether the December 2011 Spill reached land.’ However ‘in the light of the ruling by the Court of Appeal [in Privatbank, GAVC] that expediency is a theoretical concept, I will proceed on the assumptions (without deciding) that, for the purposes of Article 34, (a) the actions in Nigeria are related actions and (b) it is expedient to determine the related actions together to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgment resulting from different proceedings.’
  • That leaves the question whether a stay is necessary for the ‘proper administration of justice.’
    • At 242 the elements of recital 24 are considered in turn. Stuart-Smith emphasises in particular that while the damage occurred in Nigeria, there is a strong international element that is alleged to give rise to a duty of care owed by STASCO to the Claimants; and he underlines the uncertainty as to the length of the Nigerian proceedings).
    • At 245 he concludes that no stay is warranted: I shall recall the para in full (underlining is mine, as is the lay-out):
      • ‘Balancing these various considerations together, I am not satisfied that a stay is necessary for the proper administration of justice.
      • I start with the fact that jurisdiction is based on Article 4 and that it is contemplated that the proceedings against STASCO may continue after a temporary stay to await the progress of the Nigerian actions.
      • Second, the length of that stay is indeterminate whether one looks at the FEA or the other actions; but on any view it is likely to be measured in years rather than months, thereby rendering these Claimants’ claims (which were issued late) almost intolerably stale.
      • Third, a stay would prevent any steps being taken towards the resolution of the difficult limitation and other issues which the earlier parts of this judgment identify; and it would prevent any other steps being taken to ensure the swift and just progression of the English action if and when the stay is removed. That is, in my judgment, a major drawback: if and to the extent that there are valid (i.e. not statute-barred) claims to be pursued, there is a compelling interest of justice in their being pursued quickly. Otherwise, as is well known, there is a risk that valid claims may fall by the wayside simply because of the exorbitant passage of time.
      • Fourth, although the factual connection with Nigeria is almost complete, the English court’s jurisdiction is not to be ousted on forum non conveniens grounds and, that being so, there is no reason to assume that imposing a stay until after the Nigerian courts have reached their conclusions will either cause the English proceedings to be abandoned or determine the outcome of the English proceedings or eliminate the risk of irreconcilable findings altogether. I am certain that the English court would and will, if no stay is imposed at this stage, remain vigilant to the need to respect the Nigerian courts and their proceedings; and I do not exclude the possibility that circumstances might arise at a later stage when a pause in the English proceedings might become desirable in the interest of judicial comity and respect for Nigeria’s sovereign legal system.
      • Fifth, I bear in mind the fact that the scope of the FEA action is not clear, so that it is not clear what issues will be determined, save that the issue of STASCO’s responsibility and actions will not be as they are not before the Nigerian Court. Turning to the other actions, STASCO is only a party to the HRH Victor Disi Action which, though technically pending, cannot be assumed to be certain to come to trial. The status of the remaining actions, where STASCO is not a party, is as set out above but does not give confidence that one or more of those actions will emerge as a suitable vehicle for determining issues relating to the spill so as to fetter the freedom and resolve of the English court to reach a different conclusion on behalf of different claimants and in an action against STASCO if that is the proper result.
      • Sixth, in my judgment, the proper administration of justice is better served by taking interim steps to bring order to the English proceedings, specifically by addressing the issues of limitation and, potentially, existence and scope of duty, which are disclosed in the earlier parts of this judgment. The outcome of those steps should determine whether and to what extent STASCO is available as an anchor defendant.’

There is an awful lot here which may prove to be of crucial relevance in the debate on the application of Article 34. Most importantly, Stuart-Smith’s analysis in my view does justice to the DNA of A34, which includes a strong presumption against a stay.

Geert.

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

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

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

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

Geert.

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

 

A quick (jurisdictional) note on the Cobalt supply chain litigation.

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.

Geert.