Posts Tagged Forum non conveniens

Bento Rodrigues (Samarco dam victims) v BHP Billiton in the English courts. A new CSR marker.

The media have been reporting on a considerable class action lawsuit, underway in the English courts, in the Corporate Social Responsibility /mass torts category.

The class action case was filed against Anglo-Australian company BHP Billiton on behalf of 240,000 individuals, 24 municipal governments, 11,000 businesses, a Catholic archdiocese and about 200 members of the Krenak indigenous community. It concerns victims of the Samarco dam collapse in Mariana three years ago.

I am reporting the case simply to ensure complete overview of the CSR /jurisdiction /applicable law issues reported on the blog. For as I am co-counsel acting for the claimants, I am not in a position to comment on the case until and if legal analysis will be in the public domain.

Geert.

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

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Lloyd v Google. High Court rejects jurisdiction viz US defendant, interprets ‘damage’ in the context of data protection narrowly.

Warby J in  [2018] EWHC 2599 (QB) Lloyd v Google (a class action suit with third party financing) considers, and rejects, jurisdiction against Google Inc (domiciled in the US) following careful consideration (and distinction) of the Vidal Hall (‘Safari users) precedent.

Of note is that the jurisdictional gateway used is the one in tort, which requires among others an indication of damage. In Vidal Hall, Warby J emphasises, that damage consisted of specific material loss or emotional harm which claimants had detailed in confidential court findings (all related to Google’s former Safari turnaround, which enabled Google to set the DoubleClick Ad cookie on a device, without the user’s knowledge or consent, immediately, whenever the user visited a website that contained DoubleClick Ad content.

In essence, Warby J suggests 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”.

Wrapping up, at 74: “Not everything that happens to a person without their prior consent causes significant or any distress. Not all such events are even objectionable, or unwelcome. Some people enjoy a surprise party. Not everybody objects to every non-consensual disclosure or use of private information about them. Lasting relationships can be formed on the basis of contact first made via a phone number disclosed by a mutual friend, without asking first. Some are quite happy to have their personal information collected online, and to receive advertising or marketing or other information as a result. Others are indifferent. Neither category suffers from “loss of control” in the same way as someone who objects to such use of their information, and neither in my judgment suffers any, or any material, diminution in the value of their right to control the use of their information. Both classes would have consented if asked. In short, the question of whether or not damage has been sustained by an individual as a result of the non-consensual use of personal data about them must depend on the facts of the case. The bare facts pleaded in this case, which are in no way individualised, do not in my judgment assert any case of harm to the value of any claimant’s right of autonomy that amounts to “damage”…”

The judgment does not mean that misuse of personal data cannot 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.

Geert.

 

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Feniks: CJEU holds, in my view incorrectly, that Actio Pauliana falls under forum contractus.

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).

Geert.

 

 

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IM Skaugen v MAN. Relevance and location of indirect damage in case of misrepresentation, and forum non conveniens in Singapore.

I shall be posting perhaps tomorrow on yesterday’s CJEU judgment in Löber v Barclays (prospectus liability – see my review of Bobek AG’s Opinion here), but as a warming-up for comparative purposes, a note on [2018] SGHC 123 IM Skaugen v MAN. I have not been able to locate copy of the judgment (I am hoping one of my Singaporean followers might be able to send me one) so I am relying entirely on the excellent post by Adeline Chong – indeed in general I am happy largely to refer to Adeline’s post, she has complete analysis.

The case concerns fraudulent misrepresentation of the fuel consumption of an engine model sold and installed into ships owned by claimants (Volkswagen echo alert). Defendants are German and Norwegian incorporated companies: leave to serve out of jurisdiction needs to be granted. Interesting comparative issues are in particular jurisdiction when only indirect damage (specifically: increased fuel consumption and servicing costs with downstream owners who had purchased the ships from the first owners) occurs there; and the relevance of European lis alibi pendens rules for forum non conveniens purposes.

On the former, Singaporean CPR rules would seem to be prima facie clearer on damage not having to be direct for it to establish jurisdiction; a noted difference with EU law and one which also exercised the UK Supreme Court in Brownlie. Note the consideration of locus delicti and the use of lex fori for same (a good example in my view of the kind of difficulties that will arise if when the Hague Judgments project bears fruit).

On forum non conveniens, Spiliada was the main reference. Of interest here is firstly the consideration of transfer to the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC); and the case-specific consideration of availability of forum: the Norwegian courts had been seized but not the German ones; Germany had been identified by the Singaporean High Court as locus delict: not Norway; yet under the Lugano Convention lis alibi pendens rule, the German courts are now no longer available.

Geert.

 

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Four seasons v Brownlie: establishing jurisdiction on the basis of indirect damage.

Sometimes I post a little late. Rarely outrageously overdue. Yet Four Seasons Holdings Inc v Brownlie [2017] UKSC 80 needs to be reported on the blog for it is rather important, firstly, with respect to the topical interest in pursuing holding companies for actions (or lack fo them) committed by affiliated companies. And secondly, for jurisdiction in tort, to what degree jurisdiction on the basis of injury sustained abroad, can qualify as lasting damage in the UK. Findings on the latter issue were obiter therefore they need to be treated with caution.

All five judges issued a judgment, with a 3 to 2 majority eventually holding (again: obiter) that jurisdiction in tort in England against non-England based defendants, can go ahead on the basis of indirect damage – albeit in such cases it might still falter on forum non conveniens grounds.

Sumption J, outvoted on the indirect damage issue, wrote the most lengthy judgment.

I tweeted the ruling mid December. Students of international law will of course appreciate the personal background to the case, particularly if you have ever had the chance to be taught by prof Sir Ian Brownlie – Philippe Sands’ obituary is here.

Sir Ian died in a car ­accident while on holiday with his family in Egypt. His wife was also injured. She brought proceedings seeking: (i) damages for her own personal injuries, (ii) damages under the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1934 as Sir Ian’s executrix, and (iii) damages for her bereavement and loss of dependency under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976.

The First Defendant, Four Seasons Holdings Inc (“Holdings”), is the holding company of the Four Seasons hotel group. It is incorporated in British Columbia. The Second Defendant, Nova Park SAE (“Nova Park”) is an Egyptian company which was identified by Lady Brownlie’s solicitors as the owner of the hotel building. The case falls outside the Brussels I Recast Regulation therefore. However reference to Brussels and particularly of course to Rome II is made in the various judgments, for even though the English Courts do not decide jurisdiction on the basis of Brussels, they do have to apply Rome I or II if the suit qualifies as one in contract cq tort.

The Court of Appeal [[2015] EWCA Civ 665] had held that the jurisdictional gateways were not satisfied. There was no contract with Four Seasons Holdings, and given that Holdings was not the owner, there could be no claim in tort for vicarious liability.

David Hart QC has excellent (much more swift) analysis here and I am happy largely to refer. A few points of additional interest.

On the issue of suing holding companies, Sumption J writing at 14 ff dismisses service out of jurisdiction for there is no reasonable possibility of a claim succeeding: at 15:

‘there is no realistic prospect that Lady Brownlie will establish that she contracted with Holdings, or that Holdings will be held vicariously liable for the negligence of the driver of the excursion vehicle.’ That is because (at 14) it is entirely clear ‘that Holdings is a nontrading holding company. It neither owns nor operates the Cairo hotel, which has at all material times been owned by Nova Park, a company with no corporate relationship to any Four Seasons company. A Dutch subsidiary of Holdings called Four Seasons Cairo (Nile Plaza) BV entered into an agreement with Nova Park to operate the hotel on behalf of Nova Park, although at the material times the actual operator was an Egyptian subsidiary of Holdings, FS Cairo (Nile Plaza) LLC, which assumed the contractual obligations of the operator by assignment. Other subsidiaries of Holdings supplied advice and specific services such as sales, marketing, central reservations and procurement, and licensed the use by Nova Park of the Four Seasons Trade Mark’.

Judgment in Brownlie preceded the current cases referred to it on the subject of CSR and jurisdiction (see my previous postings on that, most recently Unilever). Yet it is clear that plaintiffs have to show much more than a corporate bloodline between mother companies and affiliated undertakings, for suits to have any chance of success.

The case could have ended here for all five judges agree on this point. Yet aware of the relevance of direction, discussion was continued obiter on the topic of suing in tort. Firstly it was clear that if a claim in tort could be brought in the English courts, it would be subject to Egyptian law per Article 4(1) Rome II. In the Court of Appeal, Arden LJ had taken analogy with that Article (and the whole Regulation)’s rejection of indirect damage as relevant for deciding lex causae. And of course Rome II’s stance on this point is influenced by the CJEU’s case-law going in the same direction, but then for jurisdiction, in Marinari and the like. Sumption J cites Canadian authority (Stephen Pittel has reference to it here) and is critical of too much emphasis put on a connection between jurisdiction and applicable law, for determining jurisdiction.

Big big pat on his back; readers of the blog know (see eg here) I am not at all enthused by too much analogy between jurisdiction and applicable law).

Sumption at 22

It is undoubtedly convenient for the country of the forum to correspond with that of the proper law. It is also true that both jurisdiction and choice of law can broadly be said to depend on how closely the dispute is connected with a particular country. But there is no necessary connection between the two. The Practice Direction contemplates a wide variety of connecting factors, of which the proper law is only one and that one is relevant only to contractual liabilities. For the purpose of identifying the proper law, “damage” is limited to direct damage because article 4 of Rome II says so in terms. It does this because there can be only one proper law, and the formulation of a common rule for all EU member states necessarily requires a more or less mechanical technique for identifying it. By comparison, indirect damage may be suffered in more than one country and jurisdiction in both English and EU law may subsist in more than one country.

Lady Hale is even more to the point at 49: ‘Applicable law and jurisdiction are two different matters. There is no necessary coincidence between the country with jurisdiction and the country whose law is applicable.

Yet for the case at hand ultimately Sumption J does curtail the relevance of indirect damage: at 23:

There is, however, a more fundamental reason for concluding that in the present context “damage” means direct damage. It concerns the nature of the duty broken in a personal injury action and the character of the damage recoverable for the breach. There is a fundamental difference between the damage done to an interest protected by the law, and facts which are merely evidence of the financial value of that damage. Except in limited and carefully circumscribed cases, the law of tort does not protect pecuniary interests as such. It is in general concerned with non-pecuniary interests, such as bodily integrity, physical property and reputation which are inherently entitled to its protection.

At 29 ff follows Sumption’s engagement with relevant CJEU authority, leading him eventually to reject indirect damage as a basis for jurisdiction. That same authority is also discussed by Lady Hale and more succinctly by the others, however they prefer to take the English law on this point in a different direction, particularly taking the CPR (the relevant English civil procedure rules) use of the word ‘damage’ at face value, meaning including indirect damage: residual English PIL therefore not determined by CJEU authority.

As noted in my introduction, even if jurisdiction can be established on the basis of indirect damage in England, forum non conveniens may still scupper jurisdiction eventually.

Geert.

 

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Unilever. Court of Appeal summarily dismisses CSR jurisdiction against mother company, confirming High Court’s approach. Lex causae for proximity again left undiscussed.

Update 21 September 2018 further litigation on similar issues is underway in Gemfield [AAA and others v Gemfields Plc and Montepuez Ruby Mining Limitada]. See overview of issues here.

The Court of Appeal in [2018] EWCA Civ 1532 has confirmed the High Court’s approach in [2017] EWHC 371 (QB) AAA et al v Unilever and Unilever Tea Kenya ltd, holding that there is no good arguable case (the civil law notion of fumus boni iuris comes closes, as Bobek AG notes in Feniks) against Unilever, which could then be used to anchor the case in the English jurisdiction.

Pro memoria: jurisdiction against Unilever is clear, following Article 4 Brussels I Recast. That Regulation’s anchor mechanism however is not engaged for Article 7(1) does not apply against non-EU based defendants. It is residual English private international law that governs this issue.

Appellants appeal in relation to the High Court’s ruling that neither Unilever nor UTKL (the Kenyan subsidiary) owed the appellants a duty of care. Unilever has put in a respondent’s notice to argue that the judge should have found that there was no duty of care owed by Unilever on the additional ground that, contrary to her view, there was no proximity between Unilever and the appellants in respect of the damage suffered by them, according to the guidance in Chandler v Cape Plc. Unilever and UTKL also sought to challenge that part of the judgment in which the judge held that, if viable claims in tort existed against Unilever (as anchor defendant) and UTKL, England is the appropriate place for trial of those claims. Unilever also cross-appealed in relation to a previous case management decision by the judge, by which she declined an application by Unilever that the claim against it should be stayed on case management grounds, until after a trial had taken place in Kenya of the appellants claims against UTKL.

The legal analysis by Sales LJ takes a mere five paragraphs (para 35 onwards). Most of the judgment is taken up by an (equally succinct) overview of risk management policies within the group.

At 35 Sales LJ notes ‘Having set out the relevant factual background in relation to the proximity issue (i.e. whether the appellants have any properly arguable case against Unilever in the light of Chandler v Cape Plc and related authorities), the legal analysis can proceed much more shortly. It is common ground that principles of English law govern this part of the case.

– the ‘common ground’ presumably being lex loci incorporationis.

This is an interesting part of the judgment for I find it by no means certain that English law should govern this part of the case. In one of my chapters for professor Vinuales’ en Dr Lees’ forthcoming OUP book on comparative environmental law, I expand on that point.

The long and the short of the argument is that Unilever did not intervene in the affairs of its subsidiary in a more intensive way than a third party would have done. Reference at 37 is made to the contrasting examples given by Sir Geoffrey Vos in Okpabi, ‘One can imagine … circumstances where the necessary proximity could be established, even absent the kind of specific facts that existed in Vedanta … Such a case might include the situation, for example, where a parent required its subsidiaries or franchisees to manufacture or fabricate a product in a particular way, and actively enforced that requirement, which turned out to be harmful to health. One might suggest a food product that injured many, but was created according to a prescriptive recipe provided by the parent. …’

and, at 38, to the raison d’être of mother /daughter structures,

“… it would be surprising if a parent company were to go to the trouble of establishing a network of overseas subsidiaries with their own management structures it if intended itself to assume responsibility for the operations of each of those subsidiaries. The corporate structure itself tends to militate against the requisite proximity …

– subject evidently to proof of the opposite in the facts at issue (a test seemingly not met here).

Geert.

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

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Feniks: Bobek AG rejects forum contractus for Actio Pauliana and defends predictability of the Brussels regime.

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 in C-337/17 Feniks v Azteca on 21 June. His Opinion features among others a legal history class on the action pauliana, and eventually a justifiable conclusion: the action is not one in contract. In C-115/88 Reichert I the Court held that the French civil law actio pauliana does not fall within exclusive jurisdiction concerning rights in rem in immovable property (Article 24(1). Soon afterwards, the Court added in C-261/90 Reichert II that the same actio pauliana was neither a provisional measure nor an action bringing proceedings concerned with the enforcement of a judgment. It was also not a matter relating to tort, delict or quasi-delict.

That left only the potential for a forum contractus to be decided.

The AG reviews a number of arguments to come to his decision. One of those I find particularly convincing: at 62: assuming that the applicability of the head of jurisdiction for matters relating to a contract were to be contemplated, the question that immediately arises is which of the two contracts potentially involved should be taken as relevant? To which of the two contracts would an actio pauliana in fact relate? Among others (at 69-70) Sharpston AG’s Opinion in Ergo is discussed in this respect and the AG in my view is right when he dismisses the contractual relations at issue as an anchor point.

At 69 the AG also adds a knock-out point which could logically have come at the very beginning of the Opinion:

‘it should also be added and underlined that both approaches outlined above fail to satisfy the requirement of ‘obligation freely assumed by one party towards another’, [the AG refers to Handte, GAVC] that is by the Defendant towards the Applicant. Even if the case-law of this Court does not require that there is identity between the parties to the proceeding and to the respective contract, it appears difficult to consider that the mere filing of an actio pauliana creates a substantive-law relationship between the Applicant and the Defendant resulting from, for example, some kind of legal subrogation founded by an act of COLISEUM (as the Applicant’s initial debtor).’

Readers further may want to take note of para 92: the AG’s view to treat the power of recitals with caution. The AG ends at 97-98 with a robust defence of the Brussels regime, with specific reference to the common law (footnotes omitted):

‘What has to be sought is a principled answer that applies largely independently of the factual elements in an individual case. While fully acknowledging and commending the attractive flexibility of rules such as forum(non) conveniens that allow for derogation in the light of the facts of a specific case, the fact remains that the structure and the logic of the Brussels Convention and Regulations is indeed built on different premises. What is understandably needed in a diverse legal space composed of 28 legal orders are ex ante reasonably foreseeable, and thus perhaps somewhat inflexible rules at times, and less of an ex post facto explanation (mostly as to why one declared oneself competent) heavily dependent on a range of factual elements.

All in all, in the current state of EU law, actio pauliana seems to be one of the rare examples that only allows for the applicability of the general rule and an equally rare confirmation of the fact that ‘… there is no obvious foundation for the idea that there should always or even often be an alternative to the courts of the defendant’s domicile’. ‘

 

A solid opinion with extra reading for the summer season (on the Pauliana).

Geert.

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