The CJEU in Wikingerhof on distinguishing tort from contract between contracting parties. No Valhalla for those seeking further clarification of Brogsitter, let alone De Bloos.

Update 25 November 10:38 AM:  Readers  may want to refer to the discussion posted to Tobias Lutzi’s view on the case, which I will not copy /paste here save for my initial reply: ‘I believe Tobias’ biggest take-away from the judgment is the Court’s emphasis on ‘indispensability’ of contractual interpretation for A(7)1 to be triggered (he will correct me if I am wrong).
As I argue in my review of the judgment, I think that’s a change of emphasis viz Brogsitter and e.g. Apple v eBizcuss rather than a change in nature of the CJEU approach.
However assuming one applies the authority that courts must not dwell too long on merits in assessing jurisdictional gateways, it does follow that A7(1) will only be engaged in those cases where the contract prima facie is overwhelmingly needed to solve the underlying dispute. This still leaves room for manoeuvre for the creative claimant (see also the AG’s points on forum shopping), but not as much as might have been expected prior to this judgment.’

 

The CJEU held yesterday (Tuesday) in C-59/19 Wikingerhof v Booking.com. I reviewed the AG’s Opinion here and the Court follows the AG’s minimalist interpretation. The case was held in Grand Chamber, which might have provoked expectations yet the judgment is not exactly a bang. Neither however can it be described a whimper. As I note in my review of the Opinion, the case in my view could have been held acte clair. The AG did take the opportunity in his Opinion to discuss many issues which the CJEU was bound not to entertain, at least not in as much detail as the AG did.

Let me first signal what I believe might be the biggest take-away of the litigation, if at least the referring court is followed. That is the Bundesgerichtshof’s finding that  there is no durable record of the alleged consent by Wikingerhof of the amended GTCs, including choice of court, effected via amendments on the ‘Extranet’, which is the portal via which the hotel may update its information and retrieve reservations. Booking.com claimed these amounted to a ‘form which accords with practices which the parties have established between themselves’ pursuant to Article 25(1)(b). Parties will still argue on the merits whether the initial consent to the primary GTCs was strong-armed because of booking.com’s dominant position.

With respect to to the jurisdictional issue, the CJEU in a succinct judgment firstly points to the need for restrictive interpretation. It points at 29 to the claimant being the trigger of A7(1) or (2). Without a claimant’s decision to base a claim on the Articles, they simply do not get to be engaged. That is a reference to the forum shopping discussion of the AG. Still, the court hearing the action must assess whether the specific conditions laid down by those provisions are  met.

At 32, with reference to Brogsitter, ‘an action concerns matters relating to a contract within the meaning of [A7(1)(a) BIa] if the interpretation of the contract between the defendant and the applicant appears indispensable to establish the lawful or, on the contrary, unlawful nature of the conduct complained of against the former by the latter’.  ‘That is in particular the case of an action based on the terms of a contract or on rules of law which are applicable by reason of that contract’ (reference to Holterman and to Kareda, with the latter itself referring to De Bloos). At 33  ‘By contrast, where the applicant relies, in its application, on rules of liability in tort, delict or quasi-delict, namely breach of an obligation imposed by law, and where it does not appear indispensable to examine the content of the contract concluded with the defendant in order to assess whether the conduct of which the latter is accused is lawful or unlawful, since that obligation applies to the defendant independently of that contract, the cause of the action is a matter relating to tort, delict or quasi-delict’.

At 32 therefore the CJEU would seem to confirm De Bloos’ awkward (given the Regulation’s attention to predictability) support for forum shopping based on claim formulation yet corrected by what is more akin to Sharpston AG’s approach in Ergo and the Court’s approach in Apple v eBizcuss, a judgment not referred in current judgment: namely that the judge will have to consider whether contractual interpretation is strictly necessary (the Court uses ‘indispensable’) to judge the case on the merits. Update 25 November 2020 as Tobias Lutzi notes here, it is the repeated (after its first use in Brogsitter) emphasis on ‘indispensable’ which might be the core clue of the CJEU: it would make the threshold for the 7(1) gateway in cases like these, high. A change in emphasis compared to Brogsitter, rather than one in substance.

Here, Wikingerhof rely on statutory German competition law (at 34-36): therefore the claim is one covered by Article 7(2).

The judgment confirms the now very fine thread between jurisdictional and merits review for the purposes of tort-based litigation between two contracting parties.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2, Heading 2.2.11.2.9. 3rd ed. 2021 para 2.469.

 

No instant forum coffee. Selecta: Some more substantial reflection on jurisdiction for schemes of arrangement.

In Selecta Finance UK Ltd, Re [2020] EWHC 2689 (Ch) Johnson J considered the jurisdictional issues for schemes of arrangement in a touch more detail than recently has been the regular method in both convening and sanctioning hearings.

Selecta Finance UK Limited is a most recent addition to the ‘Selecta’ group , having been established only on 13 August 2020. (Selecta is said to be the leading provider of unattended self-service coffee and convenience food in Europe).  The Scheme concerns three series of senior secured Notes (“the Existing SSNs“), which have an aggregate principal amount of €1.24 billion plus CHF 250 million. The Existing SSNs were issued originally not by the Company but by Selecta Group BV, its parent company incorporated in the Netherlands. They were issued pursuant to a Trust Deed dated 2 February 2018 , and were originally governed by New York law and subject to a provision for the New York Courts to have exclusive jurisdiction.

With reference to authority, Johnson J accepts that the relevant parties in interest who qualify as the Scheme Creditors are the ultimate beneficial owners of the Existing SSNs. By 14 September 2020, the Existing SSN Holders holding a majority by value of the Existing SSNs had provided their consent to (among others) the following key changes to the terms of the SSNs:  i) Amendment of the governing law provisions of the Trust Deed so that the Existing SSNs are governed by English rather than New York law. ii) Amendment of the jurisdiction provisions of the Trust Deed so that the Existing SSNs are subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the English Court in relation to any proceedings commenced by an obligor of the Existing SSNs, and the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the English Court in relation to other proceedings; iii) Accession of the Company to the Trust Deed as a co-issuer of the Existing SSNs.

At 18 it is said that an expert report on US and New York law confirms that the amendments to the governing law and jurisdiction clauses of the Trust Deed are valid under New York law and would be regarded as effective in any United States court applying that law.

The relevance of that finding for unwilling SSNs beneficiaries, I would argue, is not undisputedly established under Article 10 and Article 3(2) Rome I.

 

The Company then entered into a Supplemental Trust Deed on 14 September 2020 and thereby became a co-issuer of the Existing SSNs under the Trust Deed. As Johnson J notes at 44: it is only by means of the Supplemental Trust Deed that the Company became co-issuer of the Existing SSNs, and that the governing law and jurisdiction provisions were changed so as to refer to English law and jurisdiction.

It is clear that a jurisdictional link with England & Wales has been established specifically for the purpose of a company taking advantage of the scheme provisions in English law. With reference to Newey J in Re Codere Finance (UK) Ltd [2015] EWHC 3778 (Ch) which I reviewed here, this is held to be ‘good forum shopping’.

Article 25 Brussels Ia jurisdiction is only possible by means of the amendments to the Trust Deed effected via the Supplemental Trust Deed, as I also noted above. As I suggest there, had there been recalcitrant minority Note holders objecting to the change in court and law clause, I think the Scheme would not have been jurisdictionally home and dry on A25 choice of court grounds.

The next classic consideration is under Article 8(1)’s anchor defendant mechanism seeing as jurisdiction against the company is established per Article 4.

At 53 reference is made to Snowden J. who in Van Gansewinkel has suggested that in determining whether A8(1) applies, the Court is required to consider whether the “numbers and size of the scheme creditors domiciled in [the UK]” are “sufficiently large“: the result of that instruction is that applicants tend to point out the (debt) size of the creditors so domiciled, even if in DTEK Newey J held that size and number are irrelevant, ditto in Lecta Paper and Swissport FuellingUpdate 27 October 2020 the disparity on the need for size and number is also noted by Miles J in New Look Financing PLC, Re [2020] EWHC 2793 (Ch).

At 54 comes Johnson J’s obiter, useful finding:

Speaking for myself, I incline to the view that the presence of a single creditor is a necessary, but not of itself a sufficient, condition to the operation of Art. 8. I say that because in terms the power conferred by Art. 8 is engaged where “any one of” a number of defendants is domiciled in England & Wales, but even then the power is to be exercised only in cases where the language of the proviso in Art. 8 is satisfied – i.e., where the claims against the various defendants 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. I did not hear detailed argument on the meaning of this language, and in any event the application before me was uncontested, and so I express my view on it somewhat tentatively; but tentatively it seems to me that the question of expediency posed by the proviso is rather less about the geographical distribution in terms of number and size of the prospective defendants, and is rather more about the expediency in case management terms of connected claims being resolved in one place, even if only one anchor defendant is domiciled there. The argument in this case is that it is expedient for the claims against all EU domiciled Scheme Creditors to be resolved in one place, i.e. in England & Wales, because such claims all relate to the reorganisation of their indebtedness vis-à-vis the Company, and these Courts are best placed to resolve such questions given the separate jurisdiction they exercise over the Company under CA Part 26. Indeed, they may be uniquely placed to do so.

Opposition to the Scheme’s jurisdiction tends to evaporate once it gets to the convening and hearing stage. This is typically because the opposing creditors tend to by that stage be converted to the necessity of restructuring and the unattractiveness of having to pursue debt collection against a corporation in serious financial difficulty. As a result nearly all precedent is first instance only.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd edition 2016, Chapter 2, Chapter 5. Third edition forthcoming February 2021.

Restructuring tourism and Virgin Atlantic. The first application of England’s new Restructuring Plan leaves the jurisdictional issue hanging.

I flagged [2020] EWHC 2191 (Ch) Virgin Atlantic (the plan in the meantime has been sanctioned in [2020] EWHC 2376 (Ch)) in an update of my earlier post on the Colouroz Investment Scheme of Arrangement.

Restructuring practitioners have been justifiably excited by this new addition to England’s regulatory competition in restructuring tourism.

In my many posts on Schemes of Arrangements (see in particular Apcoa with the many references to later cases in that post; and Lecta Paper), I have summarised the modus operandi: no firm decision on jurisdiction under Brussels Ia is made (it is by no means certain but scheme creditors have so far not taken much of a swipe seeing as they tend to accept the attraction of the debtor company continuing as  a going concern following the use of an English scheme). If at least one of the creditors is domiciled in England, it is considered sued and a defendant per Article 4 Brussels Ia. Other, non-England domiciled creditors are then pulled into English jurisdiction using the one anchor defendant per Article 8(1). Trower J extends that assumption to Restructuring Plans at 58 ff:

      1. It is now well-established that an application for sanction of a Part 26 scheme is a civil or commercial matter and the reasoning seems to me to apply with equal force to a Part 26A restructuring plan. However, it has never been completely determined whether the rule laid down in Article 4(1) of the Regulation, that any person domiciled in an EU member state must (subject to any applicable exception) be sued in the courts of that member state, also applies to a Part 26 scheme, although the matter has been referred to and debated in a number of cases.
      1. In the present case, I shall adopt the usual practice of assuming without deciding that Chapter II and, therefore, Article 4 of the Recast Judgments Regulation applies to these proceedings on the basis that Plan Creditors are being sued by the company and that they are defendants, or to be treated as defendants, to the application to sanction the scheme. If, on the basis of that assumption, the court has jurisdiction because one of the exceptions to Article 4 applies, then there is no need to determine whether the assumption is correct and I will not do so.
      1. In the present case, the Company relies on the exception provided for by Article 8 of the Recast Judgments Regulation. By Article 8, a defendant who is domiciled outside a member state may be sued in that member state provided that another defendant in the same action is domiciled there and provided that it is expedient to hear the claims against both together to avoid risk of irreconcilable judgments resulting in separate proceedings. The consequence of this is that if sufficient scheme creditors are domiciled in England then Article 8(1) confers jurisdiction on the English court to sanction a scheme affecting the rights of creditors domiciled elsewhere in the EU, so long as it is expedient to do so, which it normally will be (see, for example, Re DTEK Finance Plc [2017] BCC 165 and [2016] EWHC 3563 (Ch) at the convening and sanctioning stages).
    1. and concluding at 61
      1. In the present case, the evidence is that at least one Plan Creditor from each class is domiciled in the jurisdiction. Perhaps most importantly, so far as in terms of Trade Plan Creditors, it is 90 out of 168. In my view, this is amply sufficient to ensure that the requirements of Article 8 are satisfied.’

Article 25 BIa jurisdiction is obiter dismissed at 62 for not all creditors have credit arrangements subject to English choice of court.

Restructuring Plans do have features which differ from Schemes of Arrangement and some of those do trigger different considerations at the recognition and enforcement level than have hitherto been the case for Schemes.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd edition 2016, Chapter 2, Chapter 5. Note: 3rd of the Handbook is forthcoming (February 2021).

Wikingerhof v Booking.com. Saugmandsgaard AG on the qualification in contract or tort of alleged abuse of dominant position between contracting parties. Invites the Court to confirm one of two possible readings of Brogsitter.

Saugmandsgaard AG opined yesterday in C-59/19 Wikingerhof v Booking.com (no English version of the Opinion at the time of writing). At issue is whether allegations of abuse of dominant position create a forum contractus (Article 7(1) Brussels Ia) or a forum delicti (A7(2) BIa).

I published on jurisdiction and applicable law earlier this year and I am as always genuinely humbled with the AG’s (three) references to the handbook.  Wikingerhof submits inter alia that it only ever agreed to Booking.com’s general terms and conditions (‘GTCs’) because Booking.com’s dominant position leaves it no choice. And that it had most certainly not agreed to updates to the GTCs, effected via amendments on the ‘Extranet’, which is the portal via which the hotel may update its information and retrieve reservations.

At 16 of its referral, the Bundesgerichtshof holds acte clair and therefore without reference to the CJEU that there is no durable record of the alleged consent by Wikingerhof of the amended GTCs, including choice of court. Booking.com claimed these amounted to a ‘form which accords with practices which the parties have established between themselves’ pursuant to Article 25(1)(b). This finding echoes the requirements of housekeeping which I signalled yesterday.

In my 2020 paper I point out (p.153) inter alia that in the context of Article 25’s choice of court provisions, the CJEU in C-595/17 Apple v eBizcuss suggested a fairly wide window for actions based on Article 102 TFEU’s prohibition of abuse of dominant position to be covered by the choice of court. At 28 in Apple v eBizcuss: ‘the anti-competitive conduct covered by Article 102 TFEU, namely the abuse of a dominant position, can materialise in contractual  relations that an undertaking in a dominant position establishes and by means of contractual terms’. The AG as I note below distinguished Apple on the facts and applicable rule.

In the request for preliminary ruling of the referring court, CJEU C-548/12 Brogsitter features repeatedly. The Bundesgerichtshof itself is minded to hold for forum delicti, given that (at 24 of its reference)

‘ it is not the interpretation of the contract that is the focus of the legal disputes  between the parties, but rather the question of whether the demand for specific contractual conditions or the invoking of them by a company with an — allegedly — dominant market position is to be regarded as abusive and is therefore in breach of provisions of antitrust law.

In fact on the basis of the request, the court could have held acte clair. It referred anyway which gives the AG the opportunity to write a complete if  to begin with concise précis on the notion of ‘contract’ and ‘tort’ in BIa. At 38, this leads him to conclude inter alia that despite the need strictly to interpret exceptions to the A4 actor sequitur forum rei rule, these exceptions including the special jurisdictional fori contractus ut delicti, must simply be applied with their purpose in mind.

He calls it an application ‘assouplie’, best translated perhaps as ‘accommodating’ (readers may check this against the English version when it comes out) (viz tort, too, the AG uses the term assouplie, at 45, referring eg to CJEU C-133/11 Folien Fisher).

Further, the AG notes that in deciding whether the claim is one in contract, necessarily the claimant’s cause of action has an impact, per CJEU C-274/16 Flightright (at 61 of that judgment, itself refering to C‑249/16 Kareda which in turn refers to 14/76 De Bloos). The impact of claimant’s claim form evidently is a good illustration of the possibility to engineer or at least massage fora and I am pleased the AG openly discusses the ensuing forum shopping implications, at 58 ff. He starts however with signalling at 53 ff that the substantive occurrence of concurrent liability in contract and tort is subject to the laws of the Member States and clearly differs among them, making a short comparative inroad e.g. to English law, German law and Belgian /French law. (Michiel Poesen recently wrote on the topic within the specific context of the employment section).

The AG’s discussion of CJEU authority eventually brings him to Brogsitter. He he firmly supports a minimalist interpretation.  This would mean that only if the contractual context is indispensable for the judge to rule on the legality or not of the parties’ behaviour, is forum contractus engaged. This is similar to his Opinion in Bosworth, to which he refers. He rejects the maximalist interpretation. This approach puts forward that contractual qualification trumps non-contractual (arguably, a left-over of CJEU Kalfelis; but as the AG notes at 81: there is most certainly not such a priority at the applicable law level between Rome I and II) hence the judge regardless of the claimant’s formulation of claim, must qualify the claim as contractual when on the facts a link may exist between the alleged shortcomings of the other party, and the contract.

The maximum interpretation, at 76 ff, would require the judge to engage quite intensively with the merits of the case. That would go against the instructions of the CJEU (applying the Brussels Convention (e.g. C-269/95 Benincasa)), and it would (at 77) undermine a core requirement of the Brussels regime which is legal certainty. That the minimalist approach might lead to multiplication of trials seeing as not all issues would be dealt with by the core forum contractus, is rebuked at 85 by reference to the possibility of the A4 domicile forum (an argument which the CJEU itself used in Bier /Mines de Potasse to support the Mozaik implications of its ruling there) and by highlighting the Regulation’s many instances of support for forum shopping.

The AG then discusses abusive forum shopping following creative claim formulation at 88 ff. This  is disciplined both by the fact that as his comparative review shows, the substantive law of a number of Member States eventually will not allow for dual characterisation and hence reject the claim in substance. Moreover clearly unfounded claims will be disciplined by lex fori mechanisms (such as one imagines, cost orders and the like). This section confuses me a little for I had understood the minimalist approach to lay more emphasis on the judge’s detection of the claim’s DNA (along the lines of Sharpston AG in Ergo) than on the claim’s formulation.

The AG then continues with further specification of the minimalist approach, including at 112 a rejection, correct in my view (for the opposite would deny effet utile to A7(2), of the suggestion to give the A7(1) forum contractus the ancillary power to rule of over delictual (A7(2)) issues closely related to the contractual concerns.

Applying the minimalist test to the case at issue the AG concludes that it entails forum delicti, referring in support to CDC and distinguishing Apple v eBizcuss (which entails choice of court and relies heavily on textual wording of the clause).

It will be interesting to see which of the two possible interpretations of Brogsitter the CJEU will follow and whether it will clarify the forum shopping implications of claim formulation.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2, Heading 2.2.11.2.9.

 

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.

 

 

Derivatives’ forum shopping aka Gerichtshof Einkaufen. Suing Bayer of Germany in New York, applying German law.

Many thanks indeed Kevin La Croix for flagging the suit brought in New York by a group of Bayer AG shareholders, against Bayer (with seat at Leverkusen, Germany), concerning the not altogether successful purchase of Monsanto by Bayer. Kevin has excellent analysis and I am happy to refer.

Claimants of course pre-empt arguments of lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and, subsidiarily, forum non conveniens – please refer to Kevin’s overview for the arguments to and fro. Most interesting. It brought back to me echoes of the Australian case of Tiger v Morris, not because the subject-matter is similar (it is not) but because in this increasingly globalised world (despite Covid19), courts everywhere are increasingly asked to consider the reach of their courts in cases with competing local and foreign interests. Comity considerations underlying the historic roots of conflict of laws are being brought back to the fore, no doubt also partially as a result of the impact of third party financing, contingency fees etc.

One to keep an eye on. One wonders whether Bayer might be launching a related case in Germany, then triggering A33/34 considerations.

Geert.

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

Lydian international. The Jersey courts on universalism and cross-border insolvency.

In Representation of Lydian international Limited [2020] JRC 049 MacRae DB refers to universality in insolvency proceedings only once,  namely where he refers to authority at 20. Yet his approach in honouring the request for assistance, made by the courts at Ontario ‘on the basis of comity’, walks and talks like universality. This is of course reminiscent of Menon CJ’s recent speech on the issue, or similar decisions elsewhere.

‘Though there is no precedent in Jersey for a Canadian CCAA order or similar order being enforced or recognised in relation to a Jersey company, we had no doubt that we should assist the Canadian Court in this case.  There were no reasons of Jersey public policy impeding the court making the orders sought.  To the contrary, it is consistent with Jersey’s status as a responsible jurisdiction for the Royal Court to lend assistance in order to facilitate an international insolvency process in a friendly country that has a potential to benefit the creditors of the Lydian Group as a whole.’ The Deputy Bailiff also notes that key Jersey creditors and the Jersey corporation of the Lydian group itself were represented in the Canadian proceedings.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd edition 2016, Chapter 5.

 

Disciplining forum and process shopping. Mostyn J in I and L.

A quick note on [2020] EWHC 893 (Fam) I and L (children), in which Mostyn J berates and effectively disciplines a father’s abuse forum and process shopping.

At 11:

‘I pause at this point to reflect on the actions taken by the father. Not only did he act in bad faith, as I have explained, but he also was guilty not only of blatant forum shopping but also of process shopping. If the father had genuinely developed misgivings about the wisdom and merits of the parenting agreement signed by him on 5 August 2019 then the appropriate place to raise those misgivings was the court in South Africa [the habitual residence of the children, GAVC]. Instead, by a ruse de guerre he lured the mother and children to this jurisdiction where he immediately started proceedings in the forum which he considered to be most favourable to him. By striking pre-emptively he also selected the process which he considered most favourable to him. Had he merely retained the children on 3 January 2020 and awaited the mother to take steps in response she would, unquestionably, have raised a case under the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of Child Abduction. In such a process the welfare of the children, while being an important consideration, would not have been the paramount consideration. Instead, the court would have started with the position that the children should be returned to the place of their habitual residence unless the father could demonstrate a defence.’

In the end he held that under the Children Act, in which the welfare of the children is the paramount criterion, a return to their habitual residence (to be effected as fast as possible following the end of Covid-19 lock-down) is in their best interest, thus torpedoing the abuse. Clearly like in QD, the English courts do not appreciate cloak and dagger manipulation of forum or process.

Geert.