The Brazilian orange juice cartel: successful claimants on among others Article 34 Brussels Ia ‘forum non light’, with lingering doubts on A4 ‘domicile’..

Viegas & Ors v Cutrale & Ors [2021] EWHC 2956 (Comm) (05 November 2021) concerns an alleged cartel between several Brazilian companies which produce orange juice, including Sucocítrico Cutrale: 3rd defendant. The other two defendants, Mr Cutrale Sr and Mr Cutrale Jr,  are natural persons Claimants are orange farmers who are all domiciled in Brazil.  The claim relates to alleged antitrust infringements committed in Brazil and said to have restricted competition in markets in Brazil, causing harm to the Claimants there.

Claimants claim to be entitled to maintain proceedings in England and Wales on the bases that:

i)                   although Sucocítrico Cutrale is a Brazilian company, it has its central administration in London and is therefore domiciled in the UK pursuant to A63(1)(b) Brussels Ia;

ii)                 alternatively, the Claimants were entitled to serve Sucocítrico Cutrale, pursuant to CPR 6.3(c)/6.9(2) at a “place within the jurisdiction where [it] carries on its activities; or any place of business of the company within the jurisdiction”.

iii)               Cutrale Snr is domiciled in England; and

iv)               Cutrale Jnr is domiciled in Switzerland and the claims against him are so closely connected with the claims against Sucocítrico Cutrale and Cutrale Snr that it is expedient to hear and determine them together so as to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgments, pursuant to Article 6 Lugano Convention.

The Defendants’ position is in outline as follows:

Sucocítrico Cutrale

i)                   Sucocítrico Cutrale has its “central administration” in Brazil and is therefore not domiciled in the UK for the purpose of A63(1)(b) BIa.  There is therefore no right to bring proceedings against the company in England under Article 4(1). The court must apply common law principles to determine jurisdiction.

ii)                 Alternatively, the claims against Sucocítrico Cutrale should be stayed under A33 and/or 34 BIa because of ongoing proceedings in Brazil concerning the alleged cartel.

iii)               The Claimants were not entitled to serve Sucocítrico Cutrale at an address within the jurisdiction, and so the company has not been validly served.

iv)               Alternatively, applying common law forum non conveniens principles, Brazil is the proper place for the claims against Sucocítrico Cutrale and the court should not exercise jurisdiction against it.  The claims against Sucocítrico Cutrale should be stayed even if (contrary to the Defendants’ primary case) Cutrale Snr is domiciled in England. Cutrale Snr has confirmed that he would submit to the jurisdiction of the Brazilian court. The risk of inconsistent judgments in England and Brazil therefore carries little weight because it would be caused by the Claimants’ unnecessary pursuit of litigation in England. In such circumstances, the court may stay the claims against the foreign defendant notwithstanding the presence of a UK domiciled anchor defendant (reference is made to Vedanta Resources plc v Lungowe [2020] AC 1045 . I flagged the ‘submission to foreign jurisdiction’ issue in my review of Vedanta).

Cutrale Snr

v)                  Cutrale Snr is not domiciled in the UK. There is therefore no right to bring proceedings against him under A4(1) BIa.

vi)               Further or alternatively, the court should stay the claims against Cutrale Snr pursuant to A34 BIa because of the ongoing proceedings in Brazil.

vii)             Although Cutrale Snr was served in the jurisdiction, applying common law forum non conveniens principles Brazil is the proper place for the claim.  Accordingly, the court should decline jurisdiction.

Cutrale Jnr

viii)           If neither Sucocítrico Cutrale nor Cutrale Snr is English domiciled there is no basis to assume jurisdiction against Cutrale Jnr.

ix)               If Cutrale Snr is English domiciled but the claims against Sucocítrico Cutrale are to proceed in Brazil, the criteria under A6 Lugano are not met because it would be more expedient for the claims against Cutrale Jnr to be heard in Brazil alongside the claims against Sucocítrico Cutrale.

x)                  Further or alternatively, the court should stay the claims pursuant to a reflexive application of A28 Lugano Convention because of the ongoing proceedings in Brazil.

Henshaw J held that the court lacks jurisdiction over Sucocítrico Cutrale however that it does have jurisdiction over Cutrale Snr and Cutrale Jnr and  that there is no proper basis on which to stay the claims against them.

Domicile of Sucocítrico Cutrale (‘SuCu’)

A63 BIa determines corporate domicile as the place where the corporation has its (a) statutory seat; (b) central administration; or (c) principal place of business. Claimants suggest place of central administration as being in London. Anglo American came to my mind as indeed it did to counsel and judge in current case. At 31 ff a concise look into the travaux is offered as are references to CJEU case-law under freedom of establishment (including Uberseering). I would be cautious however with too much emphasis on those cases, which are judged in quite a different context to the one in a jurisdictional assessment.

SuCu are in in essence a family-run business [55]. This is also emphasised in the witness statement of Cutrale Sr himself. SuCu refer extensively to its internal by-laws and the role in same for the ‘Executive Board’ which is made up of professionals. However there is also a, by-laws sanctioned, Family Board (in which Cutrale Sr until recently had a 99% stake). The Executive Board, by defendant’s own admission [55], runs the company on a day to day basis. The Family Board seemingly meets at various places worldwide, and the role of London in the family Board’s direction is not small, given that Cutrale Sr has secretarial assistance for his business interests there, and that his daughter (who also sits on the Family Board) conducts all her business interests there [57].

In Anglo American, the CA held

 ‘the correct interpretation of “central administration” in Article 60(1)(b)when applied to a company, is that it is the place where the company concerned, through its relevant organs according to its own constitutional provisions, takes the decisions that are essential for that company’s operations. That is, to my mind, the same thing as saying it is the place where the company, through its relevant organs, conducts its entrepreneurial management; for that management must involve making decisions that are essential for that company’s operation’

[75] ff the judge does not see London as that place where the entrepreneurial management takes place. This is to some degree a factual appraisal however I I am minded to see quite strong arguments in favour of London. I do not think for instance that BIa’s DNA of predictability for the defendant knowing where it might be sued, carries too much weight here seeing as the complex structure and the diverse effective location of the Family Board’s meetings is of its own making. By failing clearly to implement one centre of entrepreneurial management, visible to outsiders, the defendant in my view brings the risk of positive conflicts of jurisdiction upon itself.  All the more so in my view in cases where, such as here, the accusation is involvement in a cartel, which is unlikely to have happened with the firm controller of the Family Board having been kept in the dark.

Alternative serving under CPR 6.9.(2) [“Any place within the jurisdiction where the corporation carries on its activities; or any place of business of the company within the jurisdiction.”] is also dismissed: [104] ff.

[112] ff the judge discusses the domicile of Cutrale Sr which, per A62(1) BIa is to be determined under English law. This [129] ff is held to be England.

Cutrale Jr being undisputably domiciled in Switserland, the question arises whether the claim against him may be anchored upon the claim against his father, per A6(2) Lugano. The judge is reminded of his own judgment in PIS v Al Rajaan. Defendants submit that if the claims against Sucocítrico Cutrale must be pursued in Brazil, it is more expedient for the claims against Cutrale Jnr to be pursued in that jurisdiction, even if the Claimants are entitled to sue Cutrale Snr as of right in England. However [142] the judge agrees with Claimants’ point that somewhat different policy considerations arise when considering the risk of inconsistent judgments within the EU (or between Lugano States), compared to the position vis-à-vis so-called ‘third States’, and that the latter context does not involve the same particular impetus to remove obstacles to the single market and observe the principle of ‘mutual trust’ between the courts of different Member States.

Whilst the claims against Cutrale Jnr are of course connected with those against Sucocitrico, they are also bound to involve important issues in common with the claims against Cutrale Snr which (subject to the issue of an A34 stay, see below) are to be pursued in England  [143].

[144] In conclusion the expediency threshold under A6 Lugano is held to have been reached.

Next, a stay of the proceedings against Cutrale Snr under A34 BIa is rejected [147] ff. Much of the A34 authority, all of which I have discussed on the blog, is flagged. The judge observes the tension between Kolomoisky and EuroEco Fuels (Poland) as to whether the power to stay depends on there being a procedural means by which the two actions could, in fact, be tried together. At [163] the judge thankfully notes the important distinction between A33-34 and A29-30, despite citing A29-30 authority with some emphasis:

I would observe, however, in disagreement with the Defendants, that despite the similarity of language it may well make a difference whether a stay is sought (a) under Article 28 as such or (b) under Article 34 or under Article 28 as applied reflexively vis a vis proceedings in a third country (see § 238 below).  The observation quoted above that there might be a presumption in favour of a stay seems considerably easier to justify in a case where the intra-EU internal market considerations referred to in § 142 above apply than where the overseas proceedings are in a non-Member State.  On the contrary, a presumption of a stay in favour of a third country state of proceedings prima facie brought as a right against a defendant in his place of domicile may well be hard to square with the fundamental principles underlying the Brussels and Lugano regimes.

At [221], too, and in an in my view important and marked departure from Justice Turner in Municipio, Henshaw J here holds that

whilst recital 24 indicates that the court should consider all the circumstances of the case, it does not follow that the court can grant a stay pursuant to Article 34 which is in substance no more than a forum non conveniens stay.  It follows that the factors listed in § 213.iv) above are relevant only insofar as they support the granting of a stay based on the Favero and Costa claims as related claims.

This puts the horse back before the cart.

At [164] ff the ‘rival’ Brasil claims are discussed, [197] of which only two predate the current E&W claim against Cutrale Sr and a conclusion [210] that these are related in a broad sense to the present claims, but that degree of relationship would be insufficient to make it expedient to stay the present claims by reference to them.

[213] ff the various arguments that a stay would be in the ‘interest of justice’ are rejected: these include in particular [216] suggestions of consolidation or joint case management, whilst theoretically possible, are unrealistic in practice (reference is made ia to the fact that none of the current Brazilian claims have been consolidated); [217] neither rival claim is likely to reach a conclusion in the reasonably foreseeable future: on the contrary, both have been mired in procedural disputes for many years.

Similar arguments are made obiter when considering an A33-34 stay against Sucocitrico (in the event the A4 analysis, above, were to be wrong): [241] ff.

At 237, the possibility of a stay of the proceedings against Cutrale Jr, under a reflexive application of A28 Lugano is rejected with mere reference to the reasons listed viz the A34 stay. The judge has to follow the Court of Appeal’s finding in Kolomoisky, that reflexive application of A28 Lugano is possible. Clearly, I submit, it is not and this will be an important point to clarify when and if the UK accede to Lugano.

The judge concludes [249] ff by obiter upholding a forum non stay. His arguments here are interesting among others for they lead to a different result than the A33-34 application – which serves to confirm the very different nature of both mechanisms.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.15.3.

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