Posts Tagged Forum non conveniens

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.

 

 

 

 

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Bundeszentralamt Fur Steuern v Heis. On comity, staying proceedings, and the ‘public /private’ divide in international litigation.

Bundeszentralamt Fur Steuern (Being the Federal Central Tax Office of the Federal Republic of Germany) & Ors v Heis & Ors [2019] EWHC 705 (Ch) was held in March 2019 bit only came unto BAILII recently and had not caught my attention before.

The primary question raised is whether appeals by the applicants, the German Federal Tax Office (“the GTA”) and by Deutsche Bank AG (“DB”) against the rejection by the Joint Special Administrators (“the Administrators”) of MF Global UK Limited (“MFGUK”) of their respective proofs of debt, to allow the underlying claim which forms the subject of the proof to be resolved by the specialist German tax or fiscal courts, which both the applicants (for different reasons) contend are the natural forum for the determination of the claims and the forum in which they can be resolved most efficiently.

The underlying issue concerns German withholding tax.

The GTA has at all times maintained that its claim should be determined in Germany by the German tax courts, per the UK-Germany double taxation Treaty, based on the OECD model convention (for those in the know: it is Article 28(6) which the GTA has suggested exclusively reserves its GTA Claim to the German Courts). However it felt compelled to submit a proof in MFGUK’s UK administration proceedings in order to preserve its rights.

Under German law, it is within the GTA’s power to give a decision on MFGUK’s objection to relvant Amended Tax Assessment Notices. If and when it did so, it would then be for MFGUK, if it wished to pursue the matter further, to file an appeal against that decision by the GTA with the Fiscal Court of Cologne. The Fiscal Court of Cologne is one of the 18 fiscal courts in Germany which are the courts of first instance for tax matters. That seems a natural course to take however here the GTA is caught in a conundrum: at 18: the GTA has not yet formally rejected MFGUK’s objection. This is because such objection would establish proceedings in Germany, and there is a procedural rule of German law that, in order to prevent parallel proceedings, a German court will automatically defer to the court first seized of a matter. Accordingly, it seems likely that if the GTA were to reject MFGUK’s objection before the Stay Application has been decided by the UK Court, on any appeal by MFGUK, the Fiscal Court of Cologne might as a matter of comity defer to this Court in order to avoid parallel proceedings.

At 57: Brussels Ia is not engaged for the case concerns both the insolvency and the tax exclusion of Articles 1.1 and 1.2.b. At 56 Hildyard J considers the issues under English rules on the power to stay, with a focus on the risk of irreconcilable judgments.

At 84 Hildyard J holds that the GTA read too much into A28(6) and that there is no exclusive jurisdiction, leaving the consideration of whether a stay might be attractive nevertheless (at 89 ff the issue is discussed whether German courts could at all entertain the claim). This leads to an assessment pretty much like a stay under Brussels Ia as ‘related’ (rather than: the same, to which lis alibi pendens applies) cases. Note at 87(6) the emphasis which the GTA places on the actual possibility of consolidating the cases – similar to the arguments used in BIa A33-34 cases such as Privatbank and later cases).

At 115 the impact of this case having public law impacts becomes clear: ‘It seems to me that, despite my hunch that there will also be considerable factual enquiry, and a factual determination of the particular circumstances may determine the result …, the legal issues at stake are not only plainly matters of German law, but controversial and complex issues of statutory construction of systemic importance and substantial public interest in terms of the legitimate interests of the public in the protection of its taxation system from what are alleged to be colourable schemes.’

And at 116, referring ia to VTB Capital v Nutritek, ‘the risk of inconsistent decisions in concurrent proceedings in different jurisdictions, is the more acute when in one of the jurisdictions the issue is a systemic one, or may be decided in a manner which has systemic consequences. Especially in such a context, there is a preference for a case to be heard by the courts of the country whose law applies.’ Reference to VTB is made in particular with resepect to the point that Gleichlauf (the application by a court of its own laws) is to be promoted in particular (at [46] in VTB per Lord Mance: “it is generally preferable, other things being equal, that a case should be tried in a country whose law applies. However, this factor is of particular force if issues of law are likely to be important and if there is evidence of relevant differences in the legal principles or rules applicable to such issues in the two countries in contention as the appropriate forum.’

At 117: ‘even if the factual centre of gravity may be London, the jurisdiction likely to be most affected by the result is Germany: and even if the US approach of ‘interest analysis’ is not determinative in this jurisdiction it does not seem to me to be an impermissible consideration.’

Held, at 121, there is here ‘a sufficiently “rare and compelling” reason for granting the stay sought by the GTA, provided that the German Fiscal Court are an available forum in which to determine the substance of the disputes.’ At 122 Hildyard J seeks assurances ‘insofar as the parties’ best endeavours can secure it, resolution of both the GTA Claim and the Later MFGUK Refund Claim as expeditiously as possible. That seems to me necessary in order to safeguard this jurisdictions’ insolvency processes and for the protection of the interests of the body of creditors as a whole.’

Then follows at 131 ff extensive analysis of the impact of this stay decision on the related case of Deutsche Bank, with at 190 a summary of the issues to be decided. Held at 218: ‘By careful selection of potentially dispositive issues, I consider that there is some prospect of that process enabling a determination without recourse to the intricacies of German tax law which are to be decided in the context of the GTA Claim; whereas an immediate stay guarantees a long delay before this court can determine the matter, based on presently hypothetical claims, after a long wait for non-binding guidance from the German court which may result from other cases to which DB is not a party.’ However at 219 the prospect of a stay after all is held out, should a quick resolution of those issues not be possible.

Most interesting.

Geert.

 

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Villiers v Villiers. ‘Divorce tourism’ at the UKSC. An undisputed rejection of forum non; and a contentious discussion of ‘related action’.

Mr Villiers reacted to Villiers v Villiers [2020] UKSC 30 with a letter in the FT on Monday, set against the general background of ‘divorce tourism’ said to have been encouraged by the Supreme Court ruling last week. Ms Villiers now lives in England however the majority of the marriage was spent in Scotland which is also where divorce proceedings were issued.

Sales J for the majority summarises the legislative background at 8:

The national legislation governing jurisdiction in cross-border cases is primarily contained in the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments Act 1982 (“the CJJA 1982”). That Act gave effect in domestic law to the [1968] Brussels Convention… [which] was amended on the association of Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom in 1978. It was replaced as the principal instrument governing jurisdiction in cross-border cases between member states of the European Union by [Brussels I] which in large part replicated the provisions of the Brussels Convention. The CJJA 1982 was amended to refer to and give effect in domestic law to the Brussels Regulation. The Brussels Regulation has been replaced by [Brussels Ia].

The Brussels Convention did not apply to issues of the status of natural persons, including marriage, nor to rights in property arising out of a matrimonial relationship (article 1(1)), but it did apply in respect of claims for maintenance. This was later carved out and titled into a separate Regulation, the Maintenance Regulation 4/2009. The UK until Brexit day chose to apply the Regulation intra-State, too, i.e. between the constituent parts of the Kingdom. 

Lord Sales posits that all in all, the application of the jurisdictional rules is ‘straightforward’ (at 25) however his needing 32 paras to set out the test somewhat belies that statement, as does Lord Wilson’s and Lady Hale’s lengthy dissent at 93 ff. (and Lady Black’s at 58 ff).

There is no forum non conveniens rule in the Maintenance Regulation. The CJEU held so in C-468/18 R v P and Lord Sales refers to that judgment.

The only viable route to a stay of the jurisdiction in principle of the English courts, the place of habitual residence of Mrs Villiers, the maintenance creditor, is via the ‘related actions’ gateway of A13 of the Regulation.

Article 13

Related actions

1.   Where related actions are pending in the courts of different Member States, any court other than the court first seised may stay its proceedings.

2.   Where these actions are pending at first instance, any court other than the court first seised may also, on the application of one of the parties, decline jurisdiction if the court first seised has jurisdiction over the actions in question and its law permits the consolidation thereof.

3.   For the purposes of this Article, actions are deemed to be 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 separate proceedings.

 

Are the husband’s divorce proceeding in Scotland a “related action” for the purposes of A13? And, pursuant to that provision, should the English court decline jurisdiction in respect of the wife’s maintenance claim? At 45 Sales LJ holds that to be related actions, they must refer

‘primarily to maintenance claims of the kind to which the special regime in the Regulation applies. If the position were otherwise, and the word “actions” meant legal proceedings of any kind whatever, that would undermine the fundamental object of the Maintenance Regulation that a maintenance creditor has the right to choose in which jurisdiction to claim maintenance. On such a reading, there would be a substantial risk that this object of the Maintenance Regulation would be undermined by the commencement of proceedings by the maintenance debtor according to the jurisdictional provisions of instruments other than the Maintenance Regulation, laid down in pursuance of entirely different jurisdictional policies than that reflected in the Maintenance Regulation.’

At 48 he adds obiter (for the husband’s suit in Scotland here concerned the divorce and the divorce only) that contra to the likely position in Moore v Moore [2007] EWCA Civ 361, even a maintenance debtor’s claim for distribution of family property with an impact on maintenance, cannot be a related action for the purposes of A13: for it would hand the debtor a torpedo against the creditor’s Regulation-protected choice.

It is on the issue of related actions that Lord Wilson and Lady Hale disagree at 147 ff., with Lord Wilson adding an arguably stinging postscript at 172 ff. At 162 Lord Wilson refers to A13(2) as ‘the dog. The reference to “irreconcilable judgments” is no more than the tail.’ A wide interpretation therefore of A13 (Lady Black, consenting with Sales, at 85 puts more emphasis on the irreconcilability of the judgments).

A most interesting to and fro of arguments and one which post Brexit will be recommended reading for the continuing application of the Maintenance Regulation in the EU.

Geert.

 

 

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La Micro. Nugee J on Gleichlauf in forum non considerations.

In La Micro Group (UK) Ltd & Anor v La Micro Group, Inc & Ors[2020] EWHC 1405 (Ch) 1st Claimant, LA Micro Group (UK) Ltd (“LA (UK)”), is an English company. It was incorporated in 2004 and acquired by the 2nd Claimant, Mr David Bell, a British citizen resident in England. It now has two issued shares, one in the name of Mr Bell, and one in the name of the 3rd Defendant, Mr Arkadiy Lyampert. Mr Bell and Mr Lyampert are also the two directors of the company. The substantive question raised in the action is as to the beneficial ownership of LA (UK). The position of the Claimants is that Mr Bell and Mr Lyampert are not only the legal owners of the two issued shares but also the beneficial owners, and that they are each entitled to 50% of the distributable profits of the company by way of dividends. Mr Lyampert’s position is the same, although he has indicated that he does not intend to take any active part in the proceedings. All defendants are resident in California.

This preliminary issue is one of jurisdiction given claimants seek permission to serve out of jurisdiction. There are a variety of proceedings in California: disputes between Mr Frenkel and Mr Lyampert in 2010 led to Mr Frenkel and some of LA Inc’s other employees, including Mr Gorban, leaving LA Inc and starting a competing business called IT Creations, Inc (“ITC”). In the words of the Court of Appeal of California, “a profusion of lawsuits followed”.

It is i.a. argued by defendants that it would an abuse of process for LA Inc to relitigate the same issues as were decided by that judgment, even if the CAL judgments do not strictly give rise to res judicata given the differences between parties.

At 49 Nugee J holds on that particular issue that the relevant CAL Judgment did not decide anything about whether LA Inc had lost its rights to a beneficial interest in LA (UK), and the findings of fact on which the Claimants rely were not necessary to the English court’s decision on any of the matters that were in issue.

Of specific interest to the blog is the forum non conveniens application at 58 ff., with at 68 ff consideration of whether one of the pending CAL proceedings is the mirror image of the English ones, which would count heavily in a forum non consideration given the English law’s preference for the whole issue to be submitted to one tribunal. At 78 Nugee J  sums up the core issue:

The choice is between (i) allowing the English proceedings to continue so that a definitive answer can be given to one discrete question (has LA Inc lost its beneficial interest?) which will then enable the Californian court to proceed on a correct understanding of what has been decided in England rather than on what is said to be a misapprehension; or (ii) requiring the Claimants, unless they are willing to abandon their claims, to go to California to argue matters that on the view I take are matters of English law and largely concern acts taking place in England.

At 77 Nugee J expresses strong support for Gleichlauf:

(T)here are many advantages in questions of law being decided by a home court rather than a foreign court. Evidence and cross-examination is not required, which is likely to make resolution of the point both quicker and cheaper. And the court is familiar with its own law, in a way that it is not with foreign law, which means that the court’s resolution of the issues is likely to be both easier and more soundly based. Other things being equal, I have no doubt that it is preferable, both in terms of practical convenience and in terms of the ends of justice, for questions of English law to be argued in England as questions of law rather than for them to be argued in California as questions of fact on expert evidence (and possibly, although I have no evidence as to whether this would be the case, before a jury).

He concludes at 92:

England is the most appropriate forum for those matters to be decided; but even in relation to the declarations in respect of Mr Lyampert’s share, leaving the parties to litigate in California has a mix of advantages and disadvantages and there is not in my judgment sufficient to displace England as the forum in which the dispute can most suitably be tried for the interests of all the parties and for the ends of justice.

Nugee J does not therefore give Gleichlauf preponderant weight ab initio. Yet all other things being equal, Gleichlauf in this case pushed back a finding of forum non.

Geert.

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Jefferies v Cantor Fitzgerald. The full monty on forum non, case-management etc following team move.

Jefferies International Ltd & Anor v Cantor Fitzgerald & Co & Ors [2020] EWHC 1381 (QB) engages everything including the kitchen sink (but excluding Articles 33-34 Brussels Ia, one assumes because no competing foreign suits were pending when the English courts were seized) in its application for a stay.

The First to Third Claimants [together Jefferies] and the First to Third Defendants [together Cantor] carry on business in the financial services industry internationally, including investment banking and capital markets business and in particular in the international power and renewables sector. The First Defendant is a general partnership organised under the laws of New York. The Second Defendant is an unlimited company registered in England and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. The Third Defendant is a limited liability company incorporated in Hong Kong. The action arises out of what has become known as a team move. Jefferies’ case is that on 20 November 2017 twenty-six of its employees each resigned in materially identical terms, almost all of the resignations took place at 11.00 am London time notwithstanding that this was outside the normal working hours of those who worked in New York and Hong Kong, each of the employees in each jurisdiction instructed the same solicitors and each now works for Cantor. Jefferies asserts that Cantor has directed each of the twenty-six employees to refuse to honour repayment obligations in respect of certain “Replacement Awards” and “Bonuses” which were triggered by their resignations and subsequent employment by Cantor.

The following issues were agreed for determination:

i) Are the claims of Jefferies US against Cantor US subject to an arbitration agreement between Jefferies US and Cantor US, and if so should those claims be stayed pursuant to the Arbitration Act 1996 section 9?

ii) Should Jefferies’ claims against Cantor US and Cantor HK be stayed because England is not the proper place for determination of those claims?

iii) Should Jefferies’ claims against Cantor US and Cantor HK be stayed because Jefferies breached its duty of fair presentation on its without notice application for permission to serve out?

iv) Do Jefferies’ claims against Cantor US and Cantor HK, insofar as they relate to repayment agreements governed by New York law, have no reasonable prospects of success, because those repayment agreements are unenforceable as a matter of New York law?

v) Should service of the claim form and particulars of claim on Cantor US and Cantor HK and the Order of Master Thornett granting permission to serve Cantor US and Cantor HK out of the jurisdiction be set aside on any of the above grounds?

vi) Should the proceedings (or any part of them not otherwise stayed on the above grounds) be stayed on case management grounds pending final award in the FINRA arbitration?

vii) Should Jefferies’ claims against the Employee Defendants be stayed as a result of exclusive jurisdiction clauses in relevant repayment agreements favouring the courts of the State of New York?

viii) Should Jefferies’ claims against the Employee Defendants be stayed on case management grounds pending final award in the FINRA arbitration?

Master Cook dismissed all applications for a stay in a surprisingly (given the size of the list) succinct judgment and readers are best referred to the text itself for perusal. Other than Articles 33-34 (see above), only abuse of process I think could have been added to this extensive list of attempted grounds for a stay.

Geert.

 

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Bitcoin, defamation and jurisdiction. The Court of Appeal confirms stay in Wright v Ver.

The background in Wright v Ver [2020] EWCA Civ 672 is the mysterious history of Bitcoin and its creator, ‘Satoashi Nakamoto’. “Satoshi Nakamoto” is the pseudonym used by the person, or persons, who developed Bitcoin. On 31 October 2008 an academic paper was published under the name of Satoshi Nakamoto titled “Bitcoin: A peer to peer electronic cash system”. The academic paper described the manner in which the electronic cash system operated. Dr Craig Wright, claimant and appellant, is a national of Australia who now lives in Surrey. He has lived in the UK since December 2015 after emigrating from Australia. He also became a citizen of Antigua and Barbuda in 2017. He is a computer scientist with a particular interest in cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin. Dr Wright says that he is Satoshi Nakamoto.

Roger Ver, defendant and respondent, is a bitcoin investor and commentator on bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Mr Ver was born in California, and raised in Silicon Valley. He moved to Japan in 2005. In 2014 he renounced his US citizenship and became a citizen of St Kitts & Nevis, although he continues to live in Japan. Mr Ver does not accept that Dr Wright is Satoshi Nakamoto.

The judgment does not address whether Dr Wright is Satoshi Nakamoto.

Dr Wright claims that he was libelled by Mr Ver in a YouTube Video posted on the Bitcoin.com YouTube channel on about 15 April 2019, a tweet containing the YouTube Video posted on Mr Ver’s Twitter Account on 3 May 2019, and a reply on Mr Ver’s Twitter Account posted on 3 May 2019 some 8 minutes after the tweet from Mr Ver. The defamatory meaning of these publications is said to be that Dr Wright “had fraudulently claimed to be Satoshi Nakamoto, that is to say the person, or one of the group of people who developed Bitcoin”.

Never more (data produced were broken down over periods) than 7 of the total YouTube views were in the UK. 7% of Mr Ver’s Twitter followers are in the UK. By judgment dated 31 July 2019 Mr Justice Nicklin found that England and Wales was not clearly the most appropriate place in which to bring the libel claim in this action and made a declaration that the Court had no jurisdiction to hear the claim.

The Court of Appeal, Dingemans LJ leading, agreed. Brussels Ia is not engaged. The jurisdictional test is section 9 of the Defamation Act 2013 – I previously discussed it in Sadik v Sadik: ‘A court does not have jurisdiction to hear and determine an action to which this section applies unless the court is satisfied that, of all the places in which the statement complained of has been published, England and Wales is clearly the most appropriate place in which to bring an action in respect of the statement.’

At 56 Dingemans notes that after Brexit, the Act’s reach will increase.

The first instance judge had argued inter alia that the evidence showed that Dr Wright was putting down roots in the UK and that would increase the reputational interests that Dr Wright had in this jurisdiction but that could not displace the global reputation that he enjoyed.

Dr Wright’s counsel submitted that the judge had set Dr Wright an impossible task by requiring him to adduce evidence of actual harm to his reputation in each candidate jurisdiction, and concluding that in the absence of such evidence Dr Wright could not satisfy the jurisdictional test. Further it was submitted that the judge had wrongly failed to carry out a comparative assessment as to whether each candidate jurisdiction was appropriate for the claim, and therefore failed to carry out the task mandated by s9.

Relevant factors for jurisdiction are discussed at 61 ff. Evidence will have to be shown of all the places in which the relevant statement has been published, as well as the number of times it has there been published. Targeting the publication at an English audience clearly will be an issue. Further elements include the availability of fair judicial processes in the other jurisdictions in which publication occurred. The available remedies from the Courts of the other jurisdictions may be relevant, as may be the costs of pursuing proceedings in each possible jurisdiction. Other factors that might impact on access to justice, for example language barriers, can be relevant. The location of likely witnesses is another feature that may be relevant. This list of factors is not exhaustive.

In a mercifully succinct manner, Dingemans J reviews all the elements and decides the test has not been met here.

A good primer for the 2013 Act.

Geert.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

 

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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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