Posts Tagged FNC
Many thanks to Donna Williams for reporting and commenting on 1:18-cv-10798 Snöfrost AB v. Håkansson in the District Court of Massachusetts. Not all my blog posts relate to maverick cases, especially at the week-end perhaps. This one is a standard application of forum non conveniens in the US and a useful reminder of the application of the principle by US courts.
Snöfrost, a Swedish company, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts against Susanne Håkansson, a Massachusetts resident, seeking to enforce an alleged share purchase agreement (“SPA”). The SPA required Håkansson to purchase shares in a Swedish company (Farstorps Gård AB) for 330 million Swedish Krona. Snöfrost alleged that Håkansson reneged on the deal “at the eleventh hour” by raising regulatory issues as an excuse.
Håkansson’s residence in the jurisdiction would have meant immediate dismissal of FNC under the Owusu rule, had this been a case before a court in the EU.
Jurisdiction dismissed: centre of gravity of the case is Sweden – Donna explains the relevant factors in her post.
(Handbook of) EU Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 188.8.131.52.
Petrobas securities class action firmly anchored in The Netherlands. Rotterdam court applying i.a. forum non conveniens under Brussels Ia.
Many thanks to Jeffrey Kleywegt and Robert Van Vugt for re-reporting Stichting Petrobas Compensation Foundation v PetrÓleo Brasilieiro SA – PETROBRAS et al. The case, held in September (judgment in NL and in EN) relates to a Brazilian criminal investigation into alleged bribery schemes within Petrobras, which took place between 2004 and 2014. the Court had to review the jurisdictional issue only at this stage, and confirmed same for much, but not all of the claims.
The Dutch internal bank for Petrobas, Petrobas Global Finance BV and the Dutch subsidiary of Petrobas, Petrobas Oil and Gas BV are the anchor defendants. Jurisdiction against them was easily established of course under Article 4 Brussels Ia.
Issues under discussion, were
Firstly, against the Dutch defendants: Application of the new Article 34 ‘forum non conveniens’ mechanism which I have reported on before re English and Gibraltar courts. At 5.45: defendants request a stay of the proceedings on account of lis pendens, until a final decision has been given in the United States, alternatively Brazil, about claims that are virtually identical to those brought by the Foundation. They additionally argue a stay on case management grounds. However the court finds
with respect to a stay in favour of the US, that
the US courts will not judge on the merits, since there is a class settlement; and that
for the proceedings in which these courts might eventually hold on the merits (particularly in the case of claimants having opted out of the settlement), it is unclear what the further course of these proceedings will be and how long they will continue. For that reason it is also unclear if a judgment in these actions is to be expected at ‘reasonably short notice’: delay of the proceedings is a crucial factor in the Article 34 mechanism.
with respect to a stay in favour of Brasil, that Brazilian courts unlike the Dutch (see below) have ruled and will continue to rule in favour of the case having to go to arbitration, and that such awards might not even be recognisable in The Netherlands (mutatis mutandis, the Anerkennungsprognose of Article 34).
Further, against the non-EU based defendants, this of course takes place under residual Dutch rules, particularly
Firstly Article 7(1)’s anchor defendants mechanism such as it does in Shell. The court here found that exercise of jurisdiction would not be exorbitant, as claimed by Petrobas: most of the claims against the Dutch and non-Dutch defendants are so closely connected as to justify a joint hearing for reasons of efficiency, in order to prevent irreconcilable judgments from being given in the event that the cases were heard and determined separately: a clear echo of course of CJEU authority on Article 8(1). The court also rejects the suggestion that application of the anchor mechanism is abusive.
It considers these issues at 5.11 ff: relevant is inter alia that the Dutch defendants have published incorrect, incomplete, and/or misleading financial information, have on the basis of same during the fraud period issued shares, bonds or securities and in that period have deliberately and wrongly raised expectations among investors. Moreover, at 5:15: Petrobras has itself stated on its website that it has a strategic presence in the Netherlands.
Against two claims ‘involvement’ of the NL-based defendants was not withheld, and jurisdiction denied.
Further, a subsidiary jurisdictional claim for these two rejected claims on the basis of forum necessitatis (article 9 of the Duch CPR) was not withheld: Brazilian authorities are clearly cracking down on fraud and corruption (At 5.25 ff).
Finally and again for these two remaining claims, are the Netherlands the place where the harmful event occurred (Handlungsort) and /or the place where the damage occurred (Erfolgsort)? Not so, the court held: at 5.22: the Foundation has not stated enough with regard to the involvement of the Dutch defendants in those claims, for the harmful event to be localised in the Netherlands with some sufficient force. As for locus damni and with echos of Universal Music: at 5.24: that the place where the damage has occurred is situated in the Netherlands, cannot be drawn from the mere circumstance that purely financial damage has directly occurred in the Dutch bank accounts of the (allegedly) affected investors – other arguments (see at 5.24) made by the Foundation did not convince.
Finally, an argument was made that the Petrobas arbitration clause contained in its articles of association, rule out recourse to the courts in ordinary. Here, an interesting discussion took place on the relevant language version to be consulted: the Court went for the English one, seeing as this is a text which is intended to be consulted by persons all over the world (at 5.33). The English version of article 58 of the articles of association however is insufficiently clear and specific: there is no designated forum to rule on any disputes covered by the clause. Both under Dutch and Brazilian law, the Court held, giving up the constitutional right of gaining access to the independent national court requires that the clause clearly states that arbitration has been agreed. That clarity is absent: the version consulted by the court read
“Art. 58 -It shall be resolved by means of arbitration [italics added, district court], obeying the rules provided by the Market Arbitration Chamber, the disputes or controversies that involve the Company, its shareholders, the administrators and members of the Fiscal Council, for the purposes of the application of the provision contained in Law n° 6.404, of 1976, in this Articles of Association, in the rules issued by the National Monetary Council, by the Central Bank of Brazil and by the Brazilian
Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as in the other rules applicable to the functioning of the capital market in general, besides the ones contained in the agreements eventually executed by Petrobras with the stock exchange or over-the-counter market entity, accredited by the Brazilian Securities and Exchange Commission, aiming at the adoption of standards of corporate governance established by these entities, and of the respective rules of differentiated practices of corporate governance, as the case may be.”
A very relevant and well argued case – no doubt subject to appeal.
(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed.2016, Chapter 2, almost in its entirety.
My reporting on  EWHC 965 (Comm) Republic of Angola v Perfectbit et al is a bit overdue – the case came to my attention again recently in the context of a non-EU brief and I am grateful to Allen & Overy having reported it at the time: please refer to their summary for an overview of the issues and decision (concise summary reads ‘Despite an exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of the Angolan courts, the High Court was satisfied that England was the appropriate forum to hear a claim by the Republic of Angola and Angola’s central bank against several English and non-EU defendants.’).
In short, the EU’s anchor defendants mechanism (Brussel I Recast, Article 8(1) cannot be used to establish jurisdiction against a non-EU defendant: residual conflicts rules apply. However Bryan J at 124 re-emphasises the extended effect of Owusu in cases such as these at issue:
‘The passages I have quoted were quoted by the Court of Appeal in Lungowe v Vedanta Resources plc  EWCA Civ 1528;  BCC 787 at paragraphs  and  with approval. Simon LJ (with whom Jackson and Asplin LJJ agreed) at paragraph  also referred to the following observations made by the editors of Dicey and Morris:
“113. At paragraph 12-033, the editors of Dicey note the classic exposition of Lord Goff’s forum non conveniens test in the Spiliada case, but add: Lord Goff could not have foreseen, however, the subsequent distortion which would be brought about by the decision of the European Court in Owusu v Jackson. The direct effect of that case is that where proceedings in a civil or commercial matter are brought against a defendant who is domiciled in the United Kingdom, the court has no power to stay those proceedings on the ground of forum non conveniens. Its indirect effect is felt in a case in which there are multiple defendants, some of whom are not domiciled in a Member State and to whom the plea of forum non conveniens remains open: it is inevitable that the ability of those co-defendants to obtain a stay (or to resist service out of the jurisdiction) by pointing to the courts of a non-Member State which would otherwise represent the forum conveniens, will be reduced, for to grant jurisdictional relief to some but not to others will fragment what ought to be conducted as a single trial … There is no doubt, however, that the Owusu factor will have made things worse for a defendant who wishes to rely on the principle of forum non conveniens when a co-defendant cannot.” ‘
In short, against non-EU defendants whose case is anchored with an EU (England and Wales) defendant, forum non conveniens remains open but has become more unlikely. One issue perhaps under-considered by the English courts is Brussels Recast Article 34’s juncto recital 24 impact of exclusive choice of court in favour of a third State (neutralising Owusu for those specific circumstances) – not powerful enough perhaps in the case of a multitude of defendants.
Case goes to trial.
(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.4 (International impact of the Brussels I Recast Regulation), Heading 184.108.40.206.2.
I called Bobek AG’s Opinion in C-337/17 ‘solid’ – by which I also implied: convincing. Is the actio pauliana by a Polish company against a Spanish company, which had bought immovable property from the former’s contracting party, one relating to ‘contract’ within the meaning of Article 7(1) Brussels I Recast?
Bobek AG Opined it is not. The CJEU today held it is. I disagree.
Firstly, the second chamber, at 29 ff, repeats the inaccurate references in Valach and Tunkers, that (at 30) ‘actions which fall outside the scope of [the Insolvency Regulation] fall within the scope of [Brussels I Recast].’ This oft repeated quote suggest dovetailing between the two Regulations, a view which is patently incorrect: readers can use the tag ‘dovetail’ or ‘arrangement’ (for ‘scheme of arrangement’) for my view on same; see e.g. Agrokor.
Having held (this was not seriously in doubt) that Brussels I Recast is engaged, the Court then takes a much wider view of the Handte formula than advocated by Bobek AG. The Court at 37 refers to Granarolo, merely in fact to emphasise the requirement of strict interpretation of the jurisdictional rules which vary Article 4’s actor sequitur forum rei’s rule. At 43 follows the core of its reasoning: ‘By [the pauliana] the creditor seeks a declaration that the transfer of assets by the debtor to a third party has caused detriment to the creditor’s rights deriving from the binding nature of the contract and which correspond with the obligations freely consented to by the debtor. The cause of this action therefore lies essentially in the breach of these obligations towards the creditor to which the debtor agreed.’
The Court does not refer to Ergo, let alone to Sharpston AG’s ‘centre of gravity’ test in same, however it would seem that this may have influenced it. Yet in my view this is way too extensive a stretch of the Handte or Sharpston AG’s Ergo formula. Litigation in the pauliana pitches the creditor against the third party. It would take really quite specific circumstances for Handte to be met in the relation between these two. That a contractual relation features somewhere in the factual matrix is almost always true.
For a comparative benchmark, reference can be made to Refcomp where the Court took a very limiting view on subrogration of choice of court.
The Court’s formulation at 45 is entirely circular: were the creditor not able to sue in the forum contractus, ‘the creditor would be forced to bring proceedings before the court of the place where the defendant is domiciled, that forum, as prescribed by Article 4(1) of Regulation No 1215/2012, possibly having no link to the place of performance of the obligations of the debtor with regard to his creditor.’ Indeed: because the pauliana does not mordicus have to links to that place; it is not because it might not, that a forum contractus has to be conjured up to secure these links.
The Court then quite forcefully and seemingly without much hesitation identifies a specific forum contractus (unlike the AG who had suggested that that very difficulty supports his view that there simply is no forum contractus to speak of): at 46: ‘the action brought by the creditor aims to preserve its interests in the performance of the obligations derived from the contract concerning construction works, it follows that ‘the place of performance of the obligation in question’ is, according to Article 7(1)(b) of this regulation, the place where, under the contract, the construction services were provided, namely Poland.’
The initial contractual obligation between creditor and debtor therefore creates crucial jurisdictional consequences vis-a-vis third parties whose appearance in the factual matrix presents itself only very downstream. That, I would suggest, does not at all serve the predictability which the Chamber (rightly) emphasises at the very outset of its judgment as being the driving principle behind its interpretation.
I am not convinced by this judgment. (And yes, I am being polite).