Posts Tagged FNC

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

England remains a jurisdiction of choice for corporate social responsibility /CSR litigation, in recent parlour often referred to as corporate (human and other rights due diligence. Jalla & Ors v Royal Dutch Shell Plc & Ors [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.

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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.

 

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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.

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McDonald v Broadspectrum. When does a claim by an employee against her employer ‘relate to’ the contract of employment?

[2019] QSC 313 McDonald v Broadspectrum can go straight into the comparative binder – thank you Angus Macinnis for signalling it. A teacher employed by Broadspectrum on Nauru, sues it for personal injury. Amongst other things, Ms McDonald alleges Broadspectrum failed to provide a safe place or system of work, to warn her about the mould contamination, to provide protective clothing or respirators, to prevent exposure, and to provide adequate ventilation, in each instance in Nauru.

Broadspectrum applied for a declaration at the Supreme Court of Queensland that the substantive law applicable to her claims is the law of New South Wales and for an order setting aside or staying and transferring her claims to the Supreme Court of that State.

The relevant compensation schemes, in Queensland and New South Wales, each exclude from their scheme an employer’s liability arising under the law of another country. Bradley J however held that lex loci delicti is Nauru law,  which therefore is lex causae. The argument that the employment contract contained implied term to the contrary was rejected.

As I discussed with Angus, I was confused by the court’s qualification of the facts as ‘tort’ (particularly as it also refers to claimant’s argument re forum contractus being Nauru); is this not a contractual claim rather than one in tort? (and one relating to the employment contract, for that matter). Angus however pointed out that in Australia workplace injury claims are usually brought as tortious breach of care claims rather than breach of a contractual obligation to provide a safe system of work. Comparatively speaking, the EU approach would probably be different. For a comparative (consumer contracts, health and safety) angle see e.g. [2018] EWCA Civ 1889 Committeri v Club Med.

On the issue of concurrent liabilities and  EU PIL see recently also Bosworth.

Geert.

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Sabbagh v Khoury. The jurisdictional gift that keeps on giving. In today’s instalment: the possibility for qualified acknowledgment of service (prorogation) following claimant’s alleged concessions, and amended claim.

Sabbagh v Khoury [2019] EWHC 3004 (Comm) evidently builds upon the High Court and Court of Appeal previous judgments. Pro memoria: claimant established jurisdiction against all the defendants she wished to sue in relation to each element of her claim. Following judgment by the Court of Appeal and the refusal of permission to appeal further by the Supreme Court, the defendants had to decide whether to acknowledge service and accept the jurisdiction of the English Courts or to refuse to acknowledge service.

That jurisdiction should be debated at all was the result of claimant wanting to amend her claim, and having earlier been partially granted such permission. At 13: each defendant decided to acknowledge service and accept the jurisdiction of the English Courts but in each case they purported to qualify the terms on which they acknowledged service, hinging particularly on CPR Part 14: Admissions, and suggesting that a “concession” made on claimant’s behalf that certain Share Sale Agreements relied on by the defendants were “existent, valid and effective“, should have an impact on jurisdiction.

It is interesting to see the qualifications verbatim: at 13: ‘Thus in its letter of 26 March 2018, CMS Cameron McKenna Nabarro Olswang LLP on behalf of the Sabbagh defendants qualified their Acknowledgement of Service as being “… confined to the existing claims set out in the Claim Form, to the limited extent that the Court of Appeal accepted the English court’s jurisdiction over such claims, but subject to the numerous concessions your client has made including but not limited to her explicit abandonment of any claim to be presently entitled to or for delivery up of shares …”. Jones Day, the solicitors then acting for the first defendant similarly qualified his Acknowledgement of Service – see their letter of 26 March 2018. Baker McKenzie qualified the other Khoury defendants’ Acknowledgement of Service as being “… only in respect of the two claims as set out in the Claimant’s Claim Form … and is subject to the numerous concessions the Claimant has made to date …” and added that: “We understand that the Claimant intends to seek to amend her Particulars of Claim and our clients’ position as to whether any such amendment(s), if allowed, impact on the jurisdiction of the court over our clients as regards any claims other than those to which this Acknowledgement of Service is filed is fully reserved, including as to jurisdiction and/or the arbitrability of any such amended claims”. In the circumstances, it is probable that the amendment Baker McKenzie had in mind was one substantially in terms of the draft re-amended Particulars of Claim that had been placed before the Court of Appeal.’

At 21 ff Pelling J discusses the relationship between the amended claim, the earlier findings on jurisdiction, and the ‘concession’, leading at length eventually to hold that there was no impact of the concession on the extent of jurisdiction,

As Pelling J notes at 1 in fine: ‘Even allowing for the value at risk in this litigation all this is obviously disproportionate.’ One assumes the role of various counsel in the alleged concessions made earlier, must have had an impact on the energy with which the issue was advocated.

The case will now proceed to trial, lest there be any other jurisdictional challenges.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.12.1

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Lloyd v Google. Court of Appeal overturns High Court, establishes jurisdiction viz US defendant. Takes a wider approach to loss of control over personal (browser-generated information) data constituting ‘damage’.

I reported earlier on Lloyd v Google at the High Court. The case involves Google’s alleged unlawful and clandestine tracking of iPhone users in 2011 and 2012 without their consent through the use of third party cookies.

The Court of Appeal in [2019] EWCA Civ 1599 has now overturned the High Court’s approach, nota bene just a day before the CJEU’s Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek v Facebook judgment.

Warby J in  [2018] EWHC 2599 (QB) Lloyd v Google (a class action suit with third party financing) had rejected jurisdiction against Google Inc (domiciled in the US) following careful consideration (and distinction) of the Vidal Hall (‘Safari users) precedent. In essence, Warby J held that both EU law (reference is made to CJEU precedent under Directive 90/314) and national law tends to suggest that “damage” has been extended in various contexts to cover “non-material damage” but only on the proviso that “genuine quantifiable damage has occurred”. This did not mean that misuse of personal data could not be disciplined under data protection laws (typically: by the data protection authorities) or other relevant national courses of action. But where it entails a non-EU domiciled party, and the jurisdictional gateway of ‘tort’ is to be followed, ‘damage’ has to be shown.

The Court of Appeal has now overturned. A first question it considered was whether control over data is an asset that has value. Sir Geoffrey Vos C at 47 held ‘a person’s control over data or over their BGI (browser-generated information, GAVC) does have a value, so that the loss of that control must also have a value’. Sir Geoffrey did not even have to resort to metanalysis to support this:  at 46: ‘The underlying reality of this case is that Google was able to sell BGI collected from numerous individuals to advertisers who wished to target them with their advertising. That confirms that such data, and consent to its use, has an economic value.’ And at 57: ‘the EU law principles of equivalence and effectiveness (‘effet utile’, GAVC) point to the same approach being adopted to the legal definition of damage in the two torts which both derive from a common European right to privacy.’

(The remainder of the judgment concerns issues of reflection of damage on the class).

Conclusion: permission granted to serve the proceedings on Google outside the jurisdiction of the court.

All in all an important few days for digital media corporations.

Geert.

 

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R v P: Szpunar AG confirms the absence of a general forum non conveniens rule in EU law.

Update 5 September 2019. The CJEU today has confirmed. See at 44 for the forum non issue.

Szpunar AG Opined in C-468/18 R v P that in the absence of formal provisions to that effect, the Maintenance Regulation 4/2009 cannot be interpreted to include a forum non conveniens rule.

The referring court is asking, in essence, whether Article 3(a) and Article 5 of Regulation 4/2009 must be interpreted as meaning that they preclude a court of a Member State with jurisdiction to hear an action relating to a maintenance obligation brought against a defendant who is habitually resident in that Member State or who has entered an appearance before that court from declining to exercise that jurisdiction on the grounds that such a claim is ancillary to a claim relating to parental responsibility, within the meaning of Article 3(d) of that regulation, and that the court with jurisdiction to hear the latter claim would be better placed, having regard to the best interests of the child, to adjudicate on those claims.

The Court’s first Advocate-General clearly and succinctly lays out the relevant principles and reference is best made to the Opinion. It is particularly at 83, including in relevant footnote, that he points out the consequences of the EU’s approach to distribution of jurisdiction: unless a Regulation (such as in Brussels IIa; or now also Brussels Ia) includes a forum non rule, forum non must not apply.

Geert.

 

 

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