TWR v Panasonic. Obiter consideration of A34 Brussels Ia forum non light. Hamburg court likely to have to take up that baton in some form.

TRW Ltd v Panasonic Industry Europe GmbH & Anor [2021] EWHC 19 (TCC)  adds to the slowly developing case-law on Article 34 Brussels Ia’s forum non conveniens light, on which I have reported at each occasion the Article to my knowledge has been applied (most recently in Ness Global Services).

The defendant Panasonic companies are based in Germany. Panasonic’s Group headquarters are in Japan. TRW is the English subsidiary, based in Solihull, of a German group of companies, ZF Group. The defendants say the parties agreed to German law and exclusive jurisdiction of the Hamburg court over any claim by TRW arising from supply of the resistors. TRW says the parties agreed to English law and jurisdiction.

There are related proceedings in Michigan, with judgment expected in about April 2021.

Kerr J decides at 55 ff here was valid A25 choice of court and hence jurisdiction for the courts at Hamburg, following the usual discussion on whether and if so which choice of court has been agreed in to and fro messages, purchase orders, invoices, references to general terms and conditions and the like. The kind of housekeeping complications which I discuss ia here.

Then follows obiter the Article 34 discussion. Parties agree that if jurisdiction under A25 BIa is established by neither party, TRW was at liberty to sue in England as the place of delivery of the goods, under A7(1) BIa; and that for A34 purposes there is a related lis alibi pendens in Michigan. The discussion turned on whether the word “expedient” in A34(1)(a) bears the meaning “desirable, even if not practicable” or “both practicable and desirable”, given the inconsistent case-law in JSC Commercial Privatbank v. Kolomoisky, SCOR v Barclays, Municipio de Mariana,  Federal Republic of Nigeria v. Royal Dutch Shell plcand of course  EuroEco.

At 94 Kerr J seems to side with Kolomoisky and with not reading EuroEco as a rejection of same, however he does not take definitive sides or does not attempt to reconcile the judgments. At 95 he says he would have not exercised his discretion for a stay, for the reasons earlier listed by counsel for claimants: these were (at 92-93)

Mr Caplan strongly opposed any stay. He submitted that, assuming I have any discretion to grant a stay (contrary to his reserved position), I should not exercise it. The risk of irreconcilable judgments could not be eliminated, he argued. The Michigan case would shortly produce a judgment binding on neither party to the present claim and, probably, applying Michigan law.

There was no scope for issue estoppel or abuse of process because the parties were different and the law could be different. Neither party in this case had opted for Michigan as the chosen forum and Michigan law as the choice of law. If the outcome of the Michigan litigation helped to promote settlement of the present claim, that could happen anyway, without a stay, since this claim is still at an early stage; the first case management conference has yet to take place.

At 98 Kerr J summarises

I would refuse a stay. The first condition in article 34(1)(a) – the expediency condition – may well be met, subject to clarification of the test emerging from the case law. The second condition is met. The third is not. I am far from satisfied that a stay is necessary for the proper administration of justice.

Kerr J concludes at 99

defendants have undertaken to submit to the jurisdiction of the Hamburg court, subject to seeking a stay of proceedings in Hamburg to await the outcome of the Michigan proceedings.

The Hamburg court is likely to see A34 arguments return, lest of course the Michigan proceedings will be concluded, in which case res judicata, recognition, and irreconcilability of judgment might be a core concern.

We have fairly little, if growing (*makes a note to now really really finish that paper*) authority to work with on A34. All bits help.

Geert.

European Private International, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.15.3.2, para 2.539 ff

Ness Global Services: A33-34 BIa’s forum non conveniens-light applied to the Scarlet Pimpernel of BIa: non-exclusive choice of court.

Ness Global Services Ltd v Perform Content Services Ltd [2020] EWHC 3394 (Comm)  engages Articles 33-34 of the Brussels Ia Regulation, its so-called forum non conveniens light regime. I reported on it before of course, most recently re Municipio de Mariana in which the judge arguably failed to engage with BIa properly (making A33-34 a carbon copy of abuse and /or forum non arguments in my view is noli sequi).

Perform and Ness are UK-registered companies with offices in London.  Perform are defendants in the UK action. Ness Global Services and its parent Ness Technologies Inc are defendants in parallel proceedings in New Jersey. Both sets of proceedings are based on the same facts and matters. These are said to constitute the basis for termination by both sides of a written agreement.

Ness argue application of A33-34 must be dismissed for there is non-exclusive choice of court in favour of England which, it argues, makes the A33-34 threshold very high. (The clause reads ‘”Governing Law and Jurisdiction. The Agreement shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and the parties hereby irrevocably submit to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the Courts of England and Wales as regards any claim, dispute or matter arising under or in connection with this Agreement.”)

Houseman J introduces BIa’s scheme clearly and concisely, using the excellent Adrian Briggs’ suggestion of there being a hidden hierarchy in the Regulation – which in my Handbook I have also adopted (clearly with reference to prof Briggs) as the ‘jurisdictional matrix’. Houseman J at 39 notes that non-exclusive jurisdiction is hardly discussed in the Regulation. and concludes on that issue ‘If the internal hierarchy is “hidden” then is fair to say that the concept of non-exclusive prorogated jurisdiction is enigmatic and elusive. It is The Scarlet Pimpernel of the Regulation.’ Later non-EJA is used as shorthand for non-exclusive jurisdiction agreement.

At 62 after consideration of the reflexive application of exclusive jurisdictional rules, including choice of court, the text of A33-34, and recital 24, the judge considers that the recital

focusses upon connections with the ‘first seised’ Non-Member State, rather than the ‘second seised’ Member State which is applying Article 33 or Article 34. This is conspicuous notwithstanding the fact that the jurisdictional gateway language presupposes some connection between either the defendant (domicile) or the circumstances of the case (special jurisdiction) and the ‘second seised’ forum. Further, there is no obvious room in this wording for accommodating or giving effect to a Non-EJA in favour of the courts of the latter forum, and no warrant for affording it the significance that it would receive under English private international law principles, as noted below. In contrast, the second paragraph of the recital appears to contemplate the conferral of exclusive prorogated jurisdiction (albeit reflexively) in favour of the ‘first seised’ Non-Member State, as noted above.

At 80, Houseman J emphasises that in his view the internal hierarchy of the Regulation (the matrix) has no direct role to play in interpreting or applying the gateway language in A33-34. Those articles are themselves part of such hierarchy and are themselves a derogation from the basic rule of domiciliary jurisdiction. He then refers in some support to UCP v Nectrus (reference could also have been made to Citicorp) to hold at 95 that

where Article 25 operates to confer prorogated jurisdiction upon the courts of the ‘second seised’ Member State, whether exclusive or non-exclusive, Articles 33 and 34 are not applicable. In such a case it cannot be said that the court’s jurisdiction is “based upon” Article 4.

A suggestion at 96 that in such case A33-34 can apply reflexively is justifiably rejected.

At 109 application of A33-34 had they been engaged is declined obiter as being not in the interest of proper administration of justice. At 107 mere reference, neither approving nor disapproving was made ia to Municipio de Mariana which effectively places the Articles on a forum non footing.  At 112 it is held obiter

Without engaging in a full granular balancing exercise, given that this is a hypothetical inquiry in the present case, I am not persuaded that it is or would have been necessary for the proper administration of justice to stay these proceedings in favour of the NJ Proceedings. The parties bargained for or at any rate accepted the risk of jurisdictional fragmentation and multiplicity of proceedings by agreeing clause 20(f). That risk has manifested, largely through the tactical choice made by Perform to commence proceedings pre-emptively in New Jersey. The continuation of these proceedings, notwithstanding the existence of the NJ Proceedings, is a foreseeable consequence of the parties’ free bargain and a risk that Perform courted by suing first elsewhere.

An interesting addition to the scant A33-34 case-law, in an area this time of purely commercial litigation.

Geert.

European Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, 2.539 ff.

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

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

It is worthwhile to list both claimants and defendants.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Geert.

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

Third ed. forthcoming February 2021.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Geert.

 

 

High Court declines jurisdiction in Municipio de Mariana. An important (first instance) #bizhumanrights marker.

Update 1 February 2021 Turner J last week refused permission to appeal (which can now still be taken to the Court of Appeal itself).

I am instructed for claimants in the case hence my post here is a succinct report, not a review and it must not be read as anything else.

Turner J yesterday struck out (not just: stayed) the case against the companies jointly operating the facilities that led to the 2015 Brazilian dam break and consequential human and environmental loss in Município De Mariana & Ors v BHP Group Plc & Anor [2020] EWHC 2930 (TCC). I reported on the case before here.

Eyre J’s earlier Order had identified the threefold jurisdictional challenge: 1. Forum non conveniens for non-EU defendants; 2. Article 34 Brussels IA for the EU-based defendants; 3. Abuse of process, case management for both.

In his judgment Turner J makes abuse of process the core of the case, hinging his subsequent obiter analysis of forum non and of Article 34 on his views viz abuse. At the centre of his abuse analysis is his interpretation of AB v John Wyeth & Brother (No.4), also known as the benzodiazepine litigation, with the points he takes from that judgment (even after the subsequent CPR rules wre issued) summarized at 76.

At 80 ff is a discussion (see e.g. my earlier review of Donaldson DJ in Zavarco) on the use of case-management powers, including abuse, against EU-domiciled defendants post CJEU Owusu (the ‘back-door analogy per Lewison J in Skype technologies SA v Joltid Ltd [2009] EWHC 2783 (Ch) ).

At 99 ff Turner J pays a lot of attention to the impact of accepting jurisdiction on the working of the courts in England, discusses some of the practicalities including language issues, and decides at 141 in an extract which has already caught the attention of others, that ‘In particular, the claimants’ tactical decision to progress closely related damages claims in the Brazilian and English jurisdictions simultaneously is an initiative the consequences of which, if unchecked, would foist upon the English courts the largest white elephant in the history of group actions.’

At 146 ff follow the obiter considerations of the remaining grounds, Article 34 Recast, forum non conveniens and case management stay. On Article 34 viz BHP Plc, the issue of ‘relatedness’ is discussed with reference of course to Euroeco and the tension between that case and Privatbank, as I flag ia here, holding at 199 in favour of Privatbank as the leading authority (hence focus on desirability of hearing cases together rather than on practical possibility). On relatedness, Turner J does not follow the approach of either Zavarco or Jalla, both of course first instance decisions.

At 206 Turner J takes the instructions of recital 24 Brussels Ia’s ‘all circumstances of the case’ to mean including circumstances which would ordinarily be part of a forum non consideration, despite Owusu, and at 231 Jalla is distinguished (at least practically; Jalla is not authority for the judge here) and i.a. at 221 Turner J lists his reasons for allowing an Article 34 stay (again: these are obiter views). As already noted, these echo his findings on abuse of process.

The forum non conveniens analysis viz BHP Ltd at 235 ff, applying Spiliada, delivers inter alia on an inherent implication of Lord Briggs’ suggestions in Vedanta: that a commitment of defendants voluntarily to submit to the foreign alternative jurisdiction, hands them the key to unlock forum non. At 241: ‘In this case, both defendants have offered to submit themselves to the jurisdiction of Brazil. Thus the force of any suggestion that there may be a risk of irreconcilable judgements against each defendant is attenuated.’

Conclusions, at 265:

(i) I strike out the claims against both defendants as an abuse of the process of the court;

(ii) If my finding of abuse were correct but my decision to strike out were wrong, then I would stay the claims leaving open the possibility of the claimants, or some of them, seeking to lift the stay in future but without pre-determining the timing of any such application or the circumstances in which such an application would be liable to succeed;

(iii) If my finding of abuse were wrong, then I would, in any event, stay the claim against BHP Plc by the application of Article 34 of the Recast Regulation;

(iv) If my finding of abuse were wrong, then I would, in any event, stay the claims against BHP Ltd on the grounds of forum non conveniens regardless of whether the BHP reliance on Article 34 of the Recast Regulation had been successful or not;

(v) If my findings on the abuse of process point were wrong, then a free-standing decision to impose a stay on case management grounds would probably be unsustainable.

Appeal is of course being considered.

Geert.

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

3rd ed. forthcoming February 2021.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plenty applicable law issues to discuss at the merits stage.

Geert.

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

 

 

Traxis: on forum non and burden of proof.

Traxys Europe SA v Sodexmines Nigeria Ltd [2020] EWHC 2195 (Comm)  concerns the alleged dishonest substitution by Sodexmines Nigeria Limited in Nigeria in 2018 of a virtually worthless product in place of a valuable tin product which it had agreed (with choice of court and law pro England) to sell to the Claimant, Traxys Europe SA.  Second defendant is the beneficial owner and alter ego of the First Defendant (note at 31 Teare J’s insistence that they are legally separate and distinct persons). Permission to serve Mr. Ali out of the jurisdiction was granted on the basis that he was a necessary and proper party to the claim against First Defendant and that England is the proper place in which to bring the claim.

Mr Ali has applied for a stay (oddly not: an application to set aside the service order) on forum non conveniens grounds, which would ordinarily per Lord Goff in Spiliada (see discussion at 9 ff) with Teare J here at 11 holding he

‘should have regard to the substance of the matter, namely, that this is a case where the Claimant was not entitled to commence proceedings against Mr. Ali “as of right” (the expression used by Lord Goff at p.481 E) but needed to persuade the court, not only that there was a jurisdictional gateway permitting service out, but also that England was the forum conveniens for the claim against Mr. Ali. Thus, notwithstanding that as a matter of form and language Mr. Ali is seeking a stay, I consider that once battle lines were drawn as to whether England was the forum conveniens the burden lay on the Claimant to establish that England was the forum conveniens.’

At 16-17 arguments for both are listed, summarily discussed (per Lord Briggs’ instruction in Vedanta) with conclusion at 38

the claim against him lies in tort. The events which have given rise to those claims took place (in the main) in Nigeria. The witnesses upon whom the Claimant will rely to establish their claim against Mr. Ali are in Nigeria. In truth this is a Nigerian case, not an English case. The centre of gravity of the case is in Nigeria, not in England. To use the phrase used in one of the cases to which I was referred “the fundamental focus of the litigation” is on Nigeria, not England.

Of note is that the contractual and in all likelihood tort case against the first defendant will go ahead. I am not au fait whether leave to appeal was granted. On burden of proof, Teare J’s findings are quite relevant and must be I imagine subject to differences of view.

Geert.

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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.