Posts Tagged Human rights

Close, but no sigar. The CJEU on libel, internet and centre of interests in Bolagsupplysningen.

The Court held some weeks ago in C-194/16 Bolagsupplysningen OÜ on the application of the Shevill rule, as supplemented by e-Date advertising, to infringements of a company’s personality rights over the internet. I held back reporting on the case for exam reasons – yep, some of the places I teach at already have exams.

Judgment was issued in Grand Chamber. There can be no clearer indication of the relevance the Court attaches to the question. The CJEU introduces in my view further complication in the Article 7(2) rule (jurisdiction for torts) by requiring the court seized carry out analysis of ‘main economic activity’ with those same courts being told not to get carried away however in that analysis. The judgment does not I believe offer a solid conclusion for the issues of removal and rectification.

An Estonian company operating in Sweden was blacklisted for its allegedly questionable business practices on the website of a Swedish employers’ federation. The website attracted a number of hostile comments from its readers. The Estonian company brought an action before the Estonian courts against the Swedish federation. It complained that the published information has negatively affected its honour, reputation and good name. It asked the Estonian courts to order that the Swedish federation rectify the information and remove the comments from its website. It also requested damages for harm allegedly suffered as a result of the information and comments having been published online.

Can the Estonian courts assert jurisdiction to hear this action on the basis of the claimant’s ‘centre of interests’, a special ground of jurisdiction that the Court previously applied to natural persons, but so far not legal persons? If they can, then second, how should the centre of interests of a legal person be determined? Third, if the jurisdiction of the Estonian courts were to be limited to situations in which the damage occurred in Estonia, the referring court wonders whether it can order the Swedish federation to rectify and remove the information at issue.

I reviewed Bobek AG’s Opinion here – let me recap core issues: Bobek AG suggested there are two novelties in the questions referred: a legal person (not a natural one) is primarily asking for rectification and removal of information made accessible on the internet (and only secondarily for damages for the alleged harm to its reputation). This factual setting, the AG suggests, leads to the question of how far the seemingly quite generous rules on international jurisdiction previously established in Shevill with regard to libel by printed media, and then further extended in eDate to the harm caused to the reputation of a natural person by information published on the internet, may be in need of an update.

At the real root of course of the generous rules on jurisdiction for tort, lies the Court’s judgment in Bier. Bobek AG joined Szpunar AG in severely questioning the wisdom of the Bier rule (both locus delicti commissi and locus damni lead to jurisdiction) in the age of internet publications. Not unexpectedly, the Court of Justice further refined Bier, but did not overrule it.

It held first of all that legal persons like natural persons can claim for damages in their centre of interests (at 38): the split in Bier was introduced for reasons of judicial suitability (‘sound administration of justice’), not personal interest of the plaintiff hence the qualification of that plaintiff has no bearing on the rule.

Following e-Date, the national court therefore needs to determine a centre of interests for a legal person just as it would for a natural person. At 41: for legal persons, this centre of interests ‘must reflect the place where its commercial reputation is most firmly established and must, therefore, be determined by reference to the place where it carries out the main part of its economic activities. While the centre of interests of a legal person may coincide with the place of its registered office when it carries out all or the main part of its activities in the Member State in which that office is situated and the reputation that it enjoys there is consequently greater than in any other Member State, the location of that office is, not, however, in itself, a conclusive criterion for the purposes of such an analysis.’ As one knows from the definition of ‘domicile’ under the Brussels I Regulation, leading to positive jurisdictional conflicts (it is perfectly possible for more than one Member State considering itself the domicile of a corporation), it is far from self-evident to determine where a company’s ‘main’ economic activities are located.

At 43 the Grand Chamber reminds the national courts that their role in the application of the Brussels I Recast is limited to the jurisdictional stage: they must not go into the merits (yet), hence if 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’, the Court must conclude that the Article 7(2) locus damni for the full damage is not available to that claimant.

 

The Court then distinguishes actions for rectification of false information and removal of comments: there is no jurisdiction before the courts of each Member State in which the information published on the internet is or was accessible. The Court follows Bobek AG’s Opinion on this point (although the AG also employed it to support his view on withdrawal of Bier altogether) at 48: ‘in the light of the ubiquitous nature of the information and content placed online on a website and the fact that the scope of their distribution is, in principle, universal …an application for the rectification of the former and the removal of the latter is a single and indivisible application and can, consequently, only be made before a court with jurisdiction to rule on the entirety of an application for compensation for damage [the Court refers to Shevill and e-Date] and not before a court that does not have jurisdiction to do so.’

On this latter point, the judgment is bound to create a need for further clarification: Shevill and e-Date confirm full jurisdiction for the courts of the domicile of the defendant and of the locus delicti commissi. These do not necessarily coincide but do raise the same difficulty of claims for rectification and removal by nature being single and indivisible. With more than one court having such full jurisdiction I do not see a solution in the Court’s approach.

Geert.

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

 

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E-date Advertising for companies. Libel, internet and centre of interests. Bobek AG in Bolagsupplysningen OÜ.

Bobek AG opined mid July in C-194/16 Bolagsupplysningen OÜ on the application of the Shevill rule, as supplemented by e-Date advertising, to infringements of a company’s personality rights over the internet.  This is one of those Opinions where summaries fall much, much short of the contents of the original document and I should urge readers to consult the Opinion in full.

An Estonian company operating in Sweden was blacklisted for its allegedly questionable business practices on the website of a Swedish employers’ federation. The Advocate General dryly notes ‘(a)s inevitably happens in the era of anonymous internet bravery, universally known for its genteel style, subtle understanding, and moderation, the website attracted a number of hostile comments from its readers. The Estonian company brought an action before the Estonian courts against the Swedish federation. It complained that the published information has negatively affected its honour, reputation and good name. It asked the Estonian courts to order that the Swedish federation rectify the information and remove the comments from its website. It also requested damages for harm allegedly suffered as a result of the information and comments having been published online.

Can the Estonian courts assert jurisdiction to hear this action on the basis of the claimant’s ‘centre of interests’, a special ground of jurisdiction that the Court previously applied to natural persons, but so far not legal persons? If they can, then second, how should the centre of interests of a legal person be determined? Third, if the jurisdiction of the Estonian courts were to be limited to situations in which the damage occurred in Estonia, the referring court wonders whether it can order the Swedish federation to rectify and remove the information at issue.

The Advocate General suggests there are two novelties in the questions referred: a legal person (not a natural one) is primarily asking for rectification and removal of information made accessible on the internet (and only secondarily for damages for the alleged harm to its reputation). This factual setting, the AG suggests, leads to the question of how far the seemingly quite generous rules on international jurisdiction previously established in Shevill with regard to libel by printed media, and then further extended in eDate to the harm caused to the reputation of a natural person by information published on the internet, may be in need of an update. At the real root of course of the generous rules on jurisdiction for tort, lies the Court’s judgment in Bier. Bobek AG joins Szpunar AG in severely questioning the wisdom of the Bier rule in the age of internet publications.

Now, human rights scholars will enjoy the Advocate General’s tour d’horizon on whether and to what extend companies may enjoy human rights. On the whole I believe he is absolutely right in suggesting that there ought to be no difference between legal persons and natural persons when it comes to the very possession of personality rights (such as the right not to be libelled) and that neither is there any ground to distinguish between natural persons and legal persons when it comes to the jurisdictional consequences of upholding these rights.

Then, to the jurisdictional consequences (para 73 onwards): the AG suggests that ‘putting Shevill online’ (the AGs words) essentially means granting the forum to a large number of jurisdictions simultaneously, 28 within the European Union. That is because allegedly false or libelous information on the internet is instantly accessible in all Member States.

Bobek AG suggests such multiplicity of fora stemming from the distribution criterion is very difficult to reconcile with the objective of predictability of jurisdictional rules and sound administration of justice enshrined in recital 15 of the Brussels I Recast Regulation, and does not serve the interests of claimant (although the AG concedes that in litigation practice, sending the defendant on a goose chase throughout the EU may be an attractive proposition). Now, in Bier the CJEU upheld jurisdiction for both locus damni and for locus delicti commissi on the grounds that this was attractive from the point of view of evidence and conduct of proceedings: this gives both the ‘special link’ which the special jurisdictional rules require. Whether the Court will be swayed by the argument that in the internet context, neither is of relevance, remains to be seen. It is true that number of clicks, which presumably is the relevant criteria to establish ‘damage’ in the context of Article 7(2), can be established just as well outside the jurisdiction as inside it (Google Analytics being used in a variety of national proceedings). It is also true however that Bier and Shevill are dogma for the Court and it is unlikely that it will simply abandon or even vary them.

Variation is all the more unlikely in the direction of the alternative suggested by the AG: locus delicti commissi relates to whoever is in charge of publishing and altering the content of the online information. So far so good: this is a useful clarification of Shevill in the internet age and one that has as such been so applied by national courts.

Harm then would in the AG’s view have to be defined as solely being the place where the reputation of the claimant was most strongly affected. That is the place of his centre of interests. The AG further suggests (at 104 ff) that in the case of a profit-making legal person, that is, a company, the jurisdiction is likely to correspond to the Member State where it attains the highest turnover. In the case of non-profit organisations, it is likely to be the place where most of its ‘clients’ (in the broadest sense of the word) are located. In both cases, such a Member State is likely to be the one where the damage to reputation and therefore to its professional existence is going to be felt the most. However in all cases, assessments needs to be fact-specific, and moreover, more than one centre of interests could potentially be established (at 116); that latter concession of course is not likely to endear the AG to the Court, given the requirement of predictability.

Answering then the query re injunctions (under the assumption that is an injunction sought by way of final remedy, not an interim measure), the AG employs the possibility of conflicting directions issued by courts with jurisdiction as to the merits of the case, as further argument, ad absurdum, to support his view on locus damni. This issue could raise interesting discussions on the usefulness of directions to remove internet content from particular websites only.

All in all, there is an awful lot of to the point analysis by the AG in this opinion. However the Court’s repeated reluctance to vary Bier and Shevill, a formidable obstacle.

Geert.

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

 

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SCOTUS holding in Bristol-Myers Squibb BMS further restricts personal jurisdiction in State courts.

I have reported before (search tag ‘CSR’ or ‘ATS) on the personal jurisdiction cases in US litigation. The United State Supreme Court this morning held in Bristol-Meyers Squibb, BMS for short. For background see earlier reporting in this post. California was held not to have jurisdiction for claims brought by non-residents. In her dissenting Opinion justice Sotomayor notes the important impact of the ruling, suggesting that a corporation that engages in a nationwide course of conduct cannot now be held accountable in a state court by a group of injured people unless all of those people were injured in the forum State.  Precedent evidently includes Bauman.

Judgment and opinion include many interesting takes on personal jurisdiction and how it should be managed.

Kenneth Argentieri and Yuanyou (Sunny) Yang have an interesting suggestion here, that ‘plaintiffs will continue to develop creative arguments to obtain jurisdiction over defendants in their preferred jurisdictions, for example, by arguing that a corporation’s registration to do business in a state or designation of an agent to accept service in a state constitute consent to the jurisdiction in that state. Circuit and state courts are currently split on this issue, and the United States Supreme Court has not yet ruled on it.’ We are not a the end of the personal jurisdiciton road.

Geert.

 

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Just did not do it. USCA confirms strict attributability test in Ranza v Nike.

Update 21 June 2016 see also application with respect to the extraterritorial impact of the US ‘Rico’ (anti-racketeering) Act in RJR Nabisco, Inc. V European Community.

In Ranza v Nike, the Court of Appeal for the ninth circuit confirmed the high hurdle to establish personal jurisdiction over foreign corporations in the US, following the Supreme Court’s decisions in Kiobel and Bauman /Daimler. Trey Childress has good summary here and I am happy largely to refer.

Loredana Ranza is a US citisen, resident in the EU (first The Netherlands; Germany at the time of the court’s decision). She seeks to sue against her Dutch employer, Nike BV, and its parent corporation, Nike inc. for alleged violation of federal laws prohibiting sex and age discrimination. The Dutch equality Commission had earlier found the allegations unfounded under Dutch law.

Of particular interest are the Court’s views on the attributability test /piercing the corporate veil following Daimler and Kiobel. The Court held (p.15 ff) that prior to Daimler, personal jurisdiction over the mother company could be established using either the agency or the alter ego test, with the former now no longer available following Daimler. Under the Agency test, effectively a type of abus de droit /fraus /fraud, plaintiff needed to show that the subsidiary performed services which were sufficiently important to the foreign corporation that if it did not have a representative to perform them, the corporation’s own officials would undertake to perform substantially similar services. Daimler, the Court suggested in Ranza, held that the agency test leads to too broad a jurisdictional sweep. That leaves the alter ego test: effectively, whether the actions prima facie carried out by the subsidiary, are in fact carried out by the mother company for it exercises a degree of control over the daughter which renders that daughter the mother’s alter ego. Not so here, on the facts of the case: Nike Inc, established in Oregon, is heavily involved in Nike BV’s macromanagement, but not so ‘enmeshed’ in its routine management of day-to-day operation, that the two companies should be treated as a single enterprise for the purposes of jurisdiction.

For good measure, the Court also confirmed application of dismissal of jurisdiction on the basis of forum non conveniens.

Geert.

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Doe v Nestle and Tiffany v China Merchants Bank et al: The concertina effect of the Alien Torts Statute

I may yet have to insert a special category ‘ATS’ in the ‘Categories’ on the right hand side of this blog. Distinguishing, and precedent application alike keep on stretching cq enforcing the USCC’s decision in Kiobel.

On the precedent side of the debate,  Tiffany v China Merchants Bank et al , the US Second Circuit Court of Appeals took the application of Kiobel in Daimler as cue for a refusal of the recognition of Asset Restraints and Discovery Orders against a Bank with merely branch offices in New York. The Bank’s sites of incorporation and principal places of business are all outside of the US. With reference to Daimler, the Court held that there is no basis on which to conclude that the Bank’s contacts in New York are so ‘continuous and systematic’ judged against their national and global activities, that they are ‘essentially at home’ in the State.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Doe v Nestle reversed the lower court’s decision to dismiss ATS claims and arguably indeed adopted an extensive view of ‘aiding and abetting’ within the context of ATS: ‘Driven by the goal to reduce costs in any way possible, the defendants allegedly supported the use of child slavery, the cheapest form of labor available. These allegations explain how the use of child slavery benefitted the defendants and furthered their operational goals in the Ivory Coast, and therefore, the allegations support the inference that the defendants acted with the purpose to facilitate child slavery.’ : these allegations were considered to even meet the supposedly stricter ‘purpose’ test. Defendant’s market power and control over operations abroad seemed to have played an important role.

Applicants have now been allowed to re-plead given the intervening judgments by the USSC (the Doe v Nestle case has been running for a while)- watch this space, yet again.

Geert.

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‘Apartheid’ dismissed and Al-Shimari distinguished: The bar is high for the ATS’ touch and concern test

For readers unfamiliar with earlier posts on the Alien Torts Statute and its role in the corporate social responsibility debate, the title of this piece may sound like gobbledygook. Review of the interim ruling in Apartheid probably helps. As I noted in that piece, Scheindlin USDJ instructed counsel to brief on the ‘touch and concern’ test put forward by the Supreme Court in Kiobel, with the warning that they must show in particular that the companies concerned acted ‘not only with the knowledge but with the purpose to aid and abet the South African regime’s tortious conduct as alleged in these complaints’.

Having now reviewed those extra briefs, she has decided that the high bar set by the USCC in Kiobel was not met in current case. She distinguished (at p.18) the case from Al-Shimari, for the alleged violation of international law was inflicted by the South African subsidiaries of the US defendant corporations, over whom defendants may have exercised control however control alone, it transpires, is not enough to create sufficient link with the US to meet the Kiobel test.

Applicants had previously already argued that critical policy level decisions were made in the US, and that the provision of expertise, management, technology and equipment essential to the alleged abuses came from the US. This has now, so it would seem, been further backed up by detailed facts however even these facts did not graduate so to speak the US companies’ involvement from management and effective control to ‘aiding and abetting’ as Scheindlin USDJ had instructed counsel to show.

Similarish issues are at stake in trying to subject activities taking place outside the EU, to EU law by virtue of companies’ EU headquarters.

Geert.

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Al Shimari v. CACI: An ATS case found to touch and concern the US with sufficient force.

Regular or indeed occasional readers of the blog will have been following developments in US case-law since SCOTUS issued its ruling in Kiobel. In Al Shimari v. Caci, the fourth circuit Court of Appeal held in early July that plaintiffs’ claims “touch and concern” the territory of the United States with sufficient force to displace the presumption against extraterritorial application of the Alien Tort Statute: that is the test which SCOTUS set in Kiobel.

Due to a shortage of trained military interrogators, the US hired civilian contractors to interrogate detainees at Abu Ghraib, Iraq – context will be known to readers. During the time period relevant to the civil action, those private interrogators were provided exclusively by CACI Premier Technology, Inc. (CACI), a corporation domiciled in the US. Plaintiffs in the case are foreign nationals who allege that they were tortured and otherwise mistreated by American civilian and military personnel while detained at Abu Ghraib. Plaintiffs allege that CACI employees “instigated, directed, participated in, encouraged, and aided and abetted conduct towards detainees that clearly violated the Geneva Conventions, the Army Field Manual, and the laws of the United States.”

The Court of Appeal noted among many things that SCOTUS in Kiobel broadly stated that the “claims,” rather than the alleged tortious conduct, must touch and concern United States territory with sufficient force, suggesting in the view of the CA that courts must consider all the facts that give rise to ATS claims, including the parties’ identities and their relationship to the causes of action. It found that the claims do concern US territory, pointing to the fact that:

the plaintiffs’ claims allege acts of torture committed by United States citizens who were employed by an American corporation, CACI, which has corporate headquarters located in Fairfax County, Virginia. The alleged torture occurred at a military facility operated by United States government personnel.

In addition, the employees who allegedly participated in the acts of torture were hired by CACI in the United States to fulfill the terms of a contract that CACI executed with the United States Department of the Interior. The contract between CACI and the Department of the Interior was issued by a government office in Arizona, and CACI was authorized to collect payments by mailing invoices to government accounting offices in Colorado. Under the terms of the contract, CACI interrogators were required to obtain security clearances from the UnitedStates Department of Defense. Finally, the allegations are not confined to the assertion that CACI’s employees participated directly in acts of torture committed at the Abu Ghraib prison. The plaintiffs also allege that CACI’s managers located in the United States were aware of reports of misconduct abroad, attempted to “cover up” the misconduct, and “implicitly, if not expressly, encouraged” it.

(The case nb is not home and dry: whether the claims present non-justiciable political questions still needs to be determined by the district court).

Many out there must be writing PhDs on related issues: a moving target indeed!

Geert.

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